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It sounds like the US has Hikvision’s attention

Categories Biometrics News  |  Surveillance  |  Trade Notes
It sounds like the US has Hikvision’s attention

In a surprising move, a Chinese maker of video and biometric surveillance systems and under sanction by the U.S. government has taken out its aggressions on a trade journal that has reported on the company.

The company, Hikvision, is demanding that the publication, IPVM, be investigated by the United States for illegal lobbying of Congress when reporters contacted elected leaders for comment on stories dealing with Hikvision.

The company also is gearing to fight the Federal Communications Commission. According to Axios, Hikvision hired a law firm whose chairman is a former FCC chief of staff to get the regulator off its back.

The United States has sanctioned Hikvision (and others) for allegedly participating in Beijing’s persecution of that nation’s large Muslim population, known as Uyghurs. The company also is being sanctioned for alleged ties to China’s military, which is reported to be linked to human rights abuses.

IPVM’s coverage has not been one-sided. In August, it reported that 100 of the company’s partners have asked the United States not to ban Hikvision.

Many companies in China and elsewhere occasionally raise Washington’s ire, and they generally to quietly resolve complaints or create corporate structures to hide their true identity from agencies enforcing blacklists.

Some seek illegal means to outflank sanctions because being sanctioned by the largest economy in the world makes it harder and more expensive to do business globally.

The first move by Hikvision CEO Chen Zongnian, a Communist Party secretary, was in June when the company plaintively complained about being picked on by Washington.

In July, Zongnian hired a one-time senior official in the U.S. Treasury Department’s sanctions program to help him slip sanctions, according to Axios.

That might be ethically suspect all the way around, but unlike Zongnian’s next public move, it is not too unusual.

Axios this week reported that the executive is going after IPVM itself, although it is unclear how doing so could help it get off any sanctions lists.

Hikvision reportedly asked ethics officials in Congress to investigate what its executives say is unreported lobbying activity by IPVM, activity that editors describe as interviewing sources.

It is possible that Zongnian and his company’s attorneys are unaware of how a free press operates in a democracy.

It is more likely that they want to lash out at a publication that has landed journalistic blow after blow on Hikvision and its Chinese cohorts who have created a biometric visual surveillance infrastructure so powerful that it reportedly can sort ethnicities in real time as people go about their lives.

The network of cameras has helped put an estimated 1 million Uyghurs and ethnic Kazakhs in university-size re-education camps.

Meanwhile, Hikvision is trying to forestall new FCC regulations that would apply to it. Executives have made the case that Hikvision is not a telecommunications company and, thus, not subject to FCC rules.

Then there is the example of SenseTime, a leading facial recognition firm in China, also in Washington’s crosshairs over involvement in the same human rights violations that Hikvision allegedly is involved in.

It has reacted largely by ignoring the situation. In fact, its recent IPO in Hong Kong appears to have been largely unaffected by U.S. sanctions. SenseTime raised roughly $511 million from non-U.S. institutional investors, a tidy though not stratospheric sum, from investors outside the United States and Chinese government-backed funds.

U.S. law firm Hughes Hubbard & Reed argued in a recent letter, reported separately by IPVM, that its U.S investors do not need to divest from SenseTime, because the public offering was made by SenseTime’s Cayman Islands-based parent (subscription required), not the Hong Kong subsidiary barred by the treasury department. The Guardian reports that U.S. institutional investors in SenseTime declined to comment.

It should be noted that Hikvision, unlike SenseTime, has a massive, established presence in Western markets with customers and supply chains that cannot avoid involvement with the United States.

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