Why is Hikvision Banned? | Will Hikvision Be Banned In The UK?

Are Hikvision Cameras Any Good? 

The quality of Hikvision’s technology isn't really under question, support from the Chinese government helped establish the company as one of the leading providers of surveillance equipment worldwide. In fact, Hikvision has been the global market leader since 2011 and in 2020 claimed a 38% share of the market. [https://equalocean.com/analysis/2020032613830]

Hikvision is a manufacturer of "state-of-the-art" surveillance equipment. They are known for their range of sophisticated CCTV cameras that can capture high definition footage in very challenging conditions and can be equipped with powerful motion detection and facial recognition capabilities. Which sounds promising at first, and in most cases the technology is pretty solid. Support and ethical issues are where things start to come undone. 

So, Why Are Hikvision CCTV Cameras Banned? 

Hikvision’s position has been under threat globally and particularly in the US where, until 2017, Hikvision held a 12% market share. Due to allegations against the company of complicity in human rights violations in China, and increasing security concerns among US intelligence officials, the US government has taken a number of steps to ban Hikvision from the US marketplace. There have been talks in other nations and groups banning Hikvision, with the UK Foreign Affairs Committee asking parliment to ban Hikvision and Dahua, and the EU recieving similar official filings. 

It is now the case that no Hikvision products can be sold in America, nor can American companies sell parts to Hikvision, nor can any American invest in Hikvision.

Following this example set by the US, calls to ban Hikvision in the UK and EU have increased. As in the US, these calls are ostensibly motivated by concerns for human rights and security.

When was Hikvision Banned in the US?

Since 2018, Hikvision’s commercial presence in the US has been under threat due to a string of direct and indirect restrictions on the company by successive US presidents who have viewed its connections with the Chinese government, particularly the military, as a threat to US interests and human rights.

Hikvision’s problems began when, in 2018, President Trump signed a bill banning all federal agencies from buying or using Hikvision products. Hikvision cameras were used in federal buildings across the country and in a host of embassies too. The ban meant that all these cameras had to be located, removed, and replaced.

In 2019, just two months after the procurement ban, Hikvision was added to the Entities List by the US Department of Commerce, preventing US companies from selling the Hikvision parts. In anticipation of being added to the list, Hikvision had been stockpiling parts and continued to do so up until the last possible moment. [[https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/10/09/2019-22210/addition-of-certain-entities-to-the-entity-list]

The reason given for Hikvision’s inclusion on the list was the company’s links to human rights violations being committed against the Uyghurs in northwest China. Hikvision’s surveillance equipment is being used in the 300 to 400 detention centres that are holding up to a million Uyghurs against their will. [https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/04/19/break-their-lineage-break-their-roots/chinas-crimes-against-humanity-targeting]

In response to being added to the Entity List, Hikvision countered the accusations in a statement, saying, “Hikvision, as the security industry’s global leader, respects human rights and takes our responsibility to protect people in the U.S. and the world seriously.” [https://info.hikvision.com/hubfs/Public%20Statements%20About%20Current%20Hikvision%20Issues_FINAL.pdf]

A year after Hikvision was added to the list, Trump brought in legislation against US investment in a host of companies connected to the Chinese military apparatus, including Hikvision. The White House justified the ban by claiming, “China is increasingly exploiting United States capital to resource and to enable the development and modernisation of its military”. [https://www.reuters.com/article/usa-china-securities-idUSKBN27T1MD]

When Biden came into office he maintained Trump’s tough stance on China, implementing further restrictions by expanding the scope strengthening the legal framework of existing legislation.

In June 2021, Biden elaborated on Trump’s ban on investments made to companies connected to the Chinese military. The executive order signed by Biden cites the “threat posed by the military-industrial complex of the People’s Republic of China” as the reason for the punitive action. It goes on to say that the “use of Chinese surveillance technology to facilitate repression or serious human rights abuses, constitute unusual and extraordinary threats.”  [https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/06/03/fact-sheet-executive-order-addressing-the-threat-from-securities-investments-that-finance-certain-companies-of-the-peoples-republic-of-china/]

Will Hikvsion Be Banned In The UK? 

In the immediate future no, Hikvision is not banned in the UK and the government has no immediate plans to do so, however, that is not to say that it could not come very quickly and suddenly. Especially if there are any issues with Chinese - UK relations. Groups are already lobbying for this as we mentioned. And any raise in anti china fears would likely see this revisited. Much like the move against Huwei providing critical infrastructure it could happen quickly.

How Did Hikvision Respond to Being Banned in the USA?

The string of bans has thus far effectively removed Hikvision from the US market, dealing a serious blow to the company. Hikvision has responded by hiring a team of professional lobbyists with deep connections to Washington.

On June 25th, 2021, The Washington Post revealed Hikvision had hired a number of former United States congressmen to lobby the US government on their behalf in the hope of overturning the sanctions imposed against them. This information is known due to the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires anyone undertaking political or advocacy work for foreign interests to register their position with the Department of Justice. Along with working for Hikvivion, one of the former congressmen also declared their involvement with a Turkish business group and a department of the Zimbabwean government.

According to IPVM, a surveillance industry research organisation, Hikvision believes it is being unfairly targeted by the US just because it happens to be headquartered in China. Yet, as the report points out, other companies headquartered in China that are not controlled by the Chinese government, do not have extensive military R&D research programmes running, and are not active in the Xinjiang province (home of the Uyghurs) have not been blacklisted by the US. https://ipvm.com/reports/simply-hq-chin

Hikvision has repeatedly denied the accusation that they are involved in repression. They also denied claims that their facial recognition software was being used for ethnic profiling, despite substantial evidence to the countrary.

Are the Hikvision Security Concerns Justified?

Along with making accusations of involvement in repression, the US government has expressed concerns regarding the security implications of using Chinese surveillance equipment. According to the media, some US intelligence officers have suggested the cameras could be used by China to spy on American citizens, relaying the data they collect to operatives in China.

While the company denies these charges, cybersecurity experts seem to agree with intelligence officials, with one expert stating, “installing [Hikvision’s] commercial cameras in one of the [United States’] most sensitive locations…is a big mistake”. [https://www.csis.org/blogs/technology-policy-blog/hikvision-corporate-governance-and-risks-chinese-technology]

Warnings were being issued as early as 2017 by the US Department of Homeland Security’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team. The department revealed a backdoor into Hikvision camera software that they deemed to be "remotely exploitable/low skill level to exploit.”

In 2021, a serious vulnerability was detected that affected all Hikvision cameras. The vulnerability would allow attackers to take control of Hikvision cameras from a remote location. The company promptly released an update to fix the vulnerability but nevertheless received criticised from US officials, who saw the vulnerability as further evidence of the threat posed by Hikvision to American interests. FCC Commissioner Brandon Carr said, “the presence of this insecure equipment in our networks [is a] threat” and went on to suggest further actions were being considered to eliminate the remaining Hikvision devices in operation in the United States. [https://www.nextgov.com/cybersecurity/2021/09/cisa-warns-vulnerabilities-banned-chinese-surveillance-tech/185689/]

Is Hikvision Banned in the UK?

According to Reuters, Hikvision cameras are also widely used in the UK. Data cited by the news agency shows that “at least half of London’s boroughs have bought and deployed China-made surveillance systems”. [https://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-tech-china-idUSKBN2AI0QJ] Of those systems, 28 are made by Hikvision, while a further seven are made by Dahua, another giant Chinese surveillance technology firm that, along with Hikvision, has borne the brunt of US sanctions against Chinese surveillance tech.

Despite this, neither Hikvision nor Dahua have yet been banned in the UK. The UK government has said it prefers to offer guidance to companies, ultimately leaving the decision up to them, rather than implement a full ban [https://ipvm.com/reports/uk-declines]

Unsatisfied by the government’s inaction, some MPs in the UK have been pressuring the government to follow the example of the US and ban Hikvision in the UK. One MP who has been lobbying the UK government to ban the use of Hikvision, Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael, said, “We should not be working with companies that facilitate repression.”

This view has been echoed by the UK Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, which suggested Hikvision “should not be permitted to operate within the UK”. The Committee referred to Hikvision’s involvement in human rights abuses in northwest China, pointing to evidence of major contracts with the police to build and maintain internment camps for the coming decades. Other evidence noted by the Committee suggests Hikvision has been employed to provide facial recognition devices at the entrances of mosques in the region. [https://ipvm.com/reports/uk-ban-rec]

IPVM believes the Committee’s recommendation points towards a policy change in the UK. As of yet, however, no legislation has been brought forward in the UK parliament regarding a ban on Hikvision.

 

Is Hikvision Banned in Europe?

In April 2021, the European Union voted on an amendment to remove all Hikvision fever cameras from the EU parliament building in response to the human rights abuse allegations against the company.

The amendment was brought forward by Dutch MEP Lara Wolters, who said of Hikvision: “this is a company that faces well-documented accusations of supplying surveillance equipment to camps detaining Uyghurs in the Chinese region of Xinjiang”. She went on to claim that she was approached by Hikvision who, “rather aggressively”, asked her to withdraw the amendment. [https://ipvm.com/reports/hik-eu]

There is no European-wide ban on Hikvision at the present time. Hikvision cameras are still available for purchase on the EU market, and there are no restrictions against their use by governments and individuals other than being banned in the EU parliament.

 

The Future of Hikvision

With pressure mounting against the company, Hikvision’s future in the UK and EU is uncertain. There is a possibility that the company will be banned from operating in both regions. And it is incredibly unlikely that should this be the case Hikvision will ever make the changes required to be allowed to opperate due to their connections with the Chinese state. 

As in the US, this process may proceed in steps, as has already begun in the EU, and is unlikely to affect individuals or private businesses with no explicit links to the government.

Meanwhile, despite Hikvision’s lobbying efforts, it is unlikely the company will be allowed to operate in the US any time soon. Particularly considering the increasing tensions between the US government and Chinese government over Taiwan and other geopolitical considerations.

 

Hikvision Background Information

Who owns Hikvision?

Hikvision, officially named the Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co., Ltd., is a publicly-traded company founded in 2001. It is listed on Shenzhen Stock Exchange and is estimated to be worth around $80 billion. The Chinese government owns a controlling share in the company via a state-owned enterprise, the China Electronics Technology Group.

Hikvision’s headquarters are in Hangzhou, China. The company explains its operations as follows:

“Hikvision advances the core technologies of audio and video encoding, video image processing, and related data storage, as well as forward-looking technologies such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing and big data.”

To carry out its functions, Hikvision employs around 42,000 people.

 

Where is Hikvision Made?

Hikvision cameras are predominately produced in China, but in 2019, through a joint-ownership construction, Hikvision expanded its manufacturing operations by opening a new production plant in India.

The Indian new facility is capable of turning out one camera every second, covers an area of 12 acres, and employs 2000 people. Hikvision owns a 58% stake in the new plant, while the Indian partner company owns the remaining 42%.

 

How Many Hikvision Cameras Are in Use?

Exactly how many Hikvision cameras are in use is impossible to say, but internet security research firm Top10VPN has detailed the impressive spread of Hikvision’s surveillance equipment around the world, calculated by camera network. [https://www.top10vpn.com/research/hikvision-dahua-surveillance-cameras-global-locations/]

 

This includes:

 

  • 8 Million Hikvision camera networks in operation outside of China

 

  • 191 countries have active Hikvision camera networks

 

  • Vietnam and the US account for 25% of the Hikvision networks outside of China.

 

  • The UK has the fourth-largest amount of Hikvision camera networks in the world.

 

  • The city with the most Hikvision networks detected is Ho Chi Minh City, followed by Hanoi, Bangkok, London, and Montevideo.

 

Alternatives to Hikvision CCTV Cameras

When looking for alternatives, the question is really about future proofing. If you're based in the UK, we can't recommend Dahua, for the same reason as Hik Vision. As such we recommend UNV, at the same quality point, or slightly better in many cases, and similar price point they're the obvious swap. They are also Chinese made, but are outside of state control as a private business, meaning that they won't fall under future restrictions. You can view our range of cameras here.