For example, the research found 55,455 Hikvision networks in London. “From my experience of just walking around London, it would probably be several times. They are in almost every supermarket,” said Samuel Woodhams, researcher at Top10VPN who conducted the study.
The widespread presence of Hikvision cameras abroad has raised national security concerns, although the company has not been proven to send its overseas data back to China. In 2019, the US passed a bill Hikvision prohibits contracts with the federal government.
What really made Hikvision infamous on the world stage was his involvement in China’s oppressive policies in Xinjiang against Muslim minorities, mainly Uyghurs. Numerous surveillance cameras, many equipped with advanced facial recognition, have been installed both inside and outside the detention camps in Xinjiang to help the government take control of the region. And Hikvision has been a big part of this activity. The company has been found have received at least $275 million in government contracts to monitor the region and have developed AI cameras that can detect physical features of Uyghur ethnicity.
Hikvision, who was questioned about Xinjiang by MIT Technology Review, responded with a statement that didn’t directly appeal to them, but said the company “strictly complies with applicable laws and regulations and will continue to comply with applicable laws and regulations in the countries where we operate, according to international accepted business ethics and standards.”
“The Ways [companies like Hikvision] keeping people in place through the checkpoints and facial recognition systems have turned the whole region, at least from the Uyghur perspective, into a flexible [but] closed system. They often talk about it as an open-air prison,” said Darren Byler, an anthropologist at Simon Fraser University and author of In the camps: China’s high-tech penal colony† “And that really wouldn’t be possible without these tech companies.”
Adding Hikvision to the SDN would do more than just heighten tensions between the US and China — it would open up a new front in international sanctions, one in which tech companies are increasingly embroiled in geopolitical infighting.
People could face criminal charges for working or doing business with the company once the sanction is announced, Healy says:[Hikvision] can no longer interact with the US dollar or the US financial system. And other banks and other financial institutions around the world generally won’t do business with you either, because they want to keep their access to the US dollar and US financial markets.”
At the very least, this would mean that Hikvision would not be able to sell its cameras outside of China and its international revenue would drop to zero. But it’s unclear whether governments and companies that already use Hikvision cameras would be asked to replace them immediately. Then it gets even trickier when it comes to the Hikvision services that go beyond the hardware. Can current Hikvision users accept software updates from the company? Using the company’s cloud storage? “That’s exactly the kind of thing [the US government] could make an exception to this,” Healy says, as traditional enforcement of the SDN list can become impractical in the digital age.