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Hikvision surveillance tech under scrutiny again as new US sanctions rumored

UK’s Biometrics Commissioner urges procurement scrutiny
Hikvision surveillance tech under scrutiny again as new US sanctions rumored

The U.S. plans to impose tough sanctions on Hikvision, in further reaction to allegations of the Chinese biometric surveillance company’s involvement in human rights abuses, according to a new investigation by the Financial Times (FT).

Hikvision is the world’s largest manufacturer of surveillance technologies, with its main international markets outside of China being Vietnam, the U.S., Mexico, the UK, and Brazil.

Due to the far reach of the company, if enacted, the sanctions could have noticeable consequences worldwide.

“We have long called for surveillance technologies to be regulated so that they aren’t deployed by abusive governments,” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, told the FT.

“Our research shows that Beijing’s tech-enhanced repression extends both inside and outside China.”

At the time of writing, the White House has not yet commented on the alleged sanctions, but the Biden administration has in the past followed the Trump administration in accusing Beijing of committing “genocide.”

President Joe Biden also extended the ban on U.S. investments in several Chinese defense and surveillance tech companies last year in an attempt to prevent China from undermining national security.

And while the new sanctions on Hikvision have not been formally confirmed, following the FT’s investigation, the company has released a statement addressing the issue.

“The potential action by the U.S. government, as reported, remains to be verified. We believe any such sanction should be based on credible evidence and due process,” the company wrote. “We look forward to being treated fairly and without bias.”

Analyzing current and future repercussions

Albeit waiting to be confirmed by the Biden administration, the potential U.S. sanctions on Hikvision are already sending ripples through the financial markets.

According to a separate report from the FT, for instance, Hikvision’s share price fell 10 percent on Thursday, down by the maximum daily limit at 38.24 Chinese renmimbi (US$5.74). At the close of Monday trading in China, Hikvision shares were priced at RMB34.88 ($5.19).

And a new analysis by Jon Bateman from the Carnegie Endowment said the sanctions currently being considered for Hikvision would mark a profound escalation of Sino-U.S. tech tensions.

“The Global Magnitsky Act empowers the Treasury Department to impose a range of powerful sanctions on foreign companies and individuals involved in human rights violations, to include placement on the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) List,” wrote Bateman.

“It is the harshest financial penalty in Washington’s tool kit, often used against terrorists, drug lords, and the worst human rights abusers.”

According to the policy expert, the most severe sanctions would potentially freeze all of Hikvision’s assets and create penalties for anyone globally who chooses to collaborate with the company.

“In other words, U.S. sanctions could stop Hikvision from selling anything to or buying anything from all countries friendly with (or at least afraid of) the United States.”

The company could also be prevented from working with international banks, and its presence on social media threatened altogether as companies could ban its online accounts.

“It’s impossible to imagine that the Chinese government would comply with these sanctions, facilitating the humiliation and potential destruction of one of its own national champions,” Bateman wrote.

“Yet defiance would come with its own unknown legal, diplomatic, and economic consequences.”

Pressure on Hikvision is building not only in the U.S. but also in the UK, with the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner recently sending the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities a new letter calling for harsher scrutiny of public procurement of surveillance technology.

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