Blue security camera

US to place ‘seismic’ human rights-related sanctions on China’s Hikvision

Image credit: Foto 21088980 © Alphaspirit |

The United States is moving towards imposing sanctions on Chinese video surveillance company Hikvision for its role in enabling the repression of the Uyghur population.

The Biden administration is considering placing human rights-related sanctions on the Chinese company and has begun briefing its allies, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday, citing four people familiar with the matter.

The world’s largest manufacturer of surveillance equipment has been accused of enabling human rights abuses. Hikvision reportedly supplied the Chinese government with surveillance cameras that facilitate the repression of one million Uyghurs who have been detained in camps in the north-western region of Xinjiang.

Both the Trump and Biden administrations have accused Beijing of committing “genocide”, although China has consistently denied the accusations.

If the decision to sanction were taken, it would amount to the first time the US has imposed such sanctions on a big Chinese technology group. They would also have dire consequences for the company, which was already been added to a list of companies threatening US national security made by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), alongside Huawei Technologies Co, ZTE Corp, Hytera Communications Corp, and Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co.

If enforced, the ban would impact Hikvision’s partnerships across the world, as its clients would risk violating the US sanctions if they continued to trade with the company. In order to follow the US decision, governments and companies would have to spend billions to rip out and replace the Hikvision products that would not be able to be repaired.

According to Top10VPN, a tech research company, more than 1,000 cities use Hikvision cameras and the company has clients in 180 different countries. Its top five international markets are Vietnam, the US, Mexico, the UK and Brazil.

“If enacted, these sanctions are a seismic development,” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch told the Financial Times. “We have long called for surveillance technologies to be regulated so that they aren’t deployed by abusive governments. Our research shows that Beijing’s tech-enhanced repression extends both inside and outside China.”

In 2016, the US Congress passed the Global Magnitsky Act, which provided the government with the power to impose sanctions on entities involved in human rights abuses. The possible decision would also build upon US national security officials concern’s that China could use Hikvision’s cameras around the world to engage in spying activities.

“Adding Hikvision to the SDN list would be a strong manoeuvre against Beijing’s digital authoritarian agenda and an escalatory signal that the US government is now willing to employ sanctions against Chinese companies,” said Eric Sayers, senior vice-president at Beacon Global Strategies.

It is yet unclear whether other governments will follow the US’ lead, as was the case when the UK removed Huawei’s equipment from the country’s 5G network following the US sanctions. Last month, the UK’s Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner Fraser Sampson called on Hikvision to reveal its involvement in China’s human rights abuses and asked government ministers to clarify their position on buying surveillance equipment.

Meanwhile, Hikvision has maintained that the company has complied, and will continue to comply, with the applicable laws and regulations in the countries where it operates.

"The mentioned potential action by the US government remains to be verified," the surveillance camera-maker told Reuters. "We think any such sanction should be based on credible evidence and due process, and look forward to being treated fairly and unbiasedly.”

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles