Surveillance cameras produced by a Chinese company and partially owned by the Chinese government are hanging all over America, a new report reveals.
Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology, in which the Chinese government has a 42 percent share, produces surveillance equipment for China’s vast domestic surveillance network, used to keep tabs on the Chinese people. But, these cameras are also being used to monitor U.S. Army bases, embassies, streets, and homes, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Hikvision cameras hang at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, where U.S. troops conduct basic training and exercises for nuclear and biochemical defense. The company’s equipment was also installed at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Hikvision has been providing the Memphis police department with security cameras for a decade, and the company also sells models for consumer use in U.S. homes and offices.
The Beijing-backed company has been flagged on several occasions for certain security issues.
“The fact that it’s at a U.S. military installation and was in a very sensitive U.S. embassy is stunning,” Carolyn Bartholomew, chairwoman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, told the WSJ, adding, “We should not presume that there are benign intentions in the use of information-gathering technology that is funded directly or indirectly by the Chinese government.”
This past summer, the Department of Homeland Security issued a cybersecurity warning for Hikvision, noting the existence of a loophole in the system that easily allows hackers, including state-owned hackers, to breach the system.
Hikvision is no longer on the list of automatically approved suppliers, according to the General Services Administration, and several security vendors are reportedly either refusing to carry Hikvision products or restricting their purchase for fear that the surveillance equipment could be used to spy on Americans.
The Chinese company has vehemently denied the accusations against it, claiming that it follows the law wherever its products are used. Hikvision also asserts that there are no backdoors allowing information access. The company, which rose on government contracts, says that its cameras are safe and secure, arguing that its products are not a threat.
Espionage has long been a sore spot in bilateral relations between China and the U.S.
The Chinese military is suspected to have conducted corporate espionage operations for years against the U.S., causing U.S. companies to lose billions in potential profits. Chinese agents are believed to have penetrated secure systems for American defense contractors, stealing the plans for the F-35 and other major military projects, and the Ministry of State Security is said to be behind the infamous Office of Personnel Management hack, in which the personal data for millions of former and current government employees were lifted by hackers.
“On the secret battlefield without gunpowder, China needs special agents to gather secrets from the U.S.,” a Chinese outlet overseen by the state-run People’s Daily wrote last year.
China is also wary of foreign spies and espionage in China.
“It is a major security threat that we cannot afford to ignore,” the PLA Daily, China’s military newspaper, argued earlier this year, “If a war were to break out tomorrow, intelligence would be our Achilles heel.”