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Imagine a World where Everyone can be Tracked! Is the World’s Biggest Surveillance Camera Maker Sending Footage to China?

The rapid growth of a little known Chinese manufacturer of high-powered surveillance technology has some people concerned that it's no longer a theory

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Security cameras in front of the giant portrait of former Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong on Beijing's Tiananmen Square, Nov. 11, 2012. VOA
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Imagine a world where almost everyone can be tracked, and everything can be seen by cameras linked directly to the Chinese government.

The rapid growth of a little known Chinese manufacturer of high-powered surveillance technology has some people concerned that it’s no longer a theory.

Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology, a company controlled by the Chinese government, is now the world’s largest supplier of video surveillance equipment, with internet-enabled cameras installed in more than 100 countries.

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[bctt tweet=”Hikvision now has 35 branches in mainland China and 21 overseas subsidiaries with more than 18,000 employees.” username=””]

Capable of capturing sharp images even in fog, rain or darkness, Hikvision claims its most advanced technologies can recognize license plates and tell if a driver is texting while behind the wheel. They can also track individuals with unrivaled “face-tracking” technology and by identifiers such as body metrics, hair color and clothing.

In the United States alone, the company’s surveillance systems can be found everywhere from prisons to airports to private homes and public schools, and even in places with sensitive national security concerns, such as Fort Leonard Wood military base in Missouri. Abroad, its cameras were installed in the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

According to a U.S. government procurement document published on IPVM.com, the world’s largest online video surveillance trade magazine, U.S. embassy officials decided in August 2016 to allow only Hikvision suppliers to bid on the installation contract.

American flag waves beside CCTV cameras on top of the U.S. embassy in Berlin, Germany, Oct. 25, 2013. VOA
American flag waves beside CCTV cameras on top of the U.S. embassy in Berlin, Germany, Oct. 25, 2013. VOA

Stephen Bryen, a widely published expert on international affairs and cyber security, wrote an article outlining his concerns about the purchase, saying the Hikvision cameras were never proven to be any more secure than comparable models.

“If the procurement officer actually thought these cameras were more secure than others, that would have been claimed as part of the sole-source justification,” he said of the embassy purchase agreement, adding that no claims of any kind were made regarding the Hikvision products.

“The issue is that the U.S. embassy is installing commercial cameras in one if its most sensitive locations,” Bryen wrote. “This is a big mistake, and mistakes like this can cost lives.”

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On Monday, a State Department official confirmed the installation via email.

“A Hikvision camera system was initially installed to monitor non-sensitive electrical closets for theft prevention,” the official said of U.S. Embassy Kabul. “The procurement in question was to either expand this or to install a new system. The procurement was cancelled September 2016 and the previously installed cameras were removed.”

It is not known whether other Hikvision products have ever been installed in other U.S. embassies.

Spreading the word

Edward Long, a former employee of a video surveillance equipment company in Florida, recently petitioned the U.S. government with a letter warning that Hikvision cameras are sending information back to China.

“Over the past year, [Hikvision has] … flooded the United States with their equipment,” he wrote. “Every time one of their machines is plugged into the internet, it sends all your data to three servers in China. With that information, the Chinese government can log in to any camera system, anytime they want.”

Frank Fisherman, a general manager for Long’s former employer, IC Realtime Security Solutions, tells VOA that Hikvision devices are engineered for effortless hacking.

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“They have their encrypted information set up so they can access even if you change the admin [passwords] and the firewall,” he said, adding that Hikvision may have set aside a “back door” in the production process, such that the manufacturer can monitor devices remotely without the users being aware.

IPVM President John Honovich, however, strikes a less alarmist tone.

“So far, we haven’t found any evidence showing these cameras are sending information back to China, and there is no evidence of such back doors,” he told VOA, cautioning, however, that these facts alone do not rule out a possible security threat.

“The issue that still remains is that maybe [back doors] haven’t been found yet,” he said. “All devices have firmware, [which is] updated all the time, just like you update your computer [or] your PC. At any point during the firmware upgrade, back doors can be added by the manufacturers.”

Among well-known video surveillance equipment manufacturers, Honovich added, Hikvision products may not be worth the risk.

“There are hundreds of security camera manufacturers in the world,” he said. “One can [find a reliable system] without the risk of buying products made by a company largely owned and controlled by the Chinese government.”

A Beijing incubator company

Established in 2001, Hikvision, which originated as a Chinese government research institute, maintains strong ties with that government. More than 42 percent of the company is owned by China’s state-owned enterprises, with the remaining stock owned by a combination of general public stockholders and venture capital investors, including 18 percent from private equity in Hong Kong.

Screen shows monitor views at a surveillance-camera manufacturer showroom in Taipei, Taiwan, Nov. 1, 2016. VOA
Screen shows monitor views at a surveillance-camera manufacturer showroom in Taipei, Taiwan, Nov. 1, 2016. VOA

In 2015, when Chinese President Xi Jinping went on an inspection tour of the southern city of Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province, he visited Hikvision’s main office instead of the famous Alibaba headquarters. Xi also met with Pu Shiliang, 38, Hikvision’s head of research and development.

According to the official website of Zhejiang Police Academy, Pu is also the director of a technology laboratory within China’s Ministry of Public Security, the main domestic security agency that has long been criticized for tracking and detaining dissidents and perceived Communist Party opponents of any stripe.

Beginning in 2015, China’s state Development Bank and Export-Import Bank provided Hikvision with 20 billion yuan (nearly $3 billion) in low-interest loans and a 20 billion yuan line of credit. Loans of this size are typically unavailable to Chinese or foreign companies.

Invisible to consumers

Despite the enormous security implications, the United States appears to have made no national security assessment of Hikvision products. As indicated by Long’s online petition, which ultimately closed with only 15 supporters, Hikvision’s links to Beijing are virtually invisible to American consumers.

In April, a New York Times report addressed similar concerns about Chinese drone maker DJI — the world’s largest manufacturer of small drones. The report says the company issued a user agreement that warns customers: “if you conduct your flight in certain countries, your flight data might be monitored and provided to the government authorities according to local regulatory laws.”

In Britain, where many Hikvision cameras have been installed, some government officials have begun voicing concerns.

“If you’ve got cameras that are IP enabled, or potentially could covertly be so enabled … they could potentially be used for malign purposes,” Nigel Inkster, a former British intelligence official, told The Times.

Canadian-based Genetec, one of the world’s leading video surveillance software companies, recently announced that it would no longer offer free technical support for products from either Hikvision or Huawei — a Shenzen-based multinational networking and telecommunications equipment and services company — citing ongoing “security considerations.”

Issuing the announcement, Genetec cited government and corporate clients who called Hikvision and Huawei products “too risky.”

Voice of America received no response to multiple attempts to contact Hikvision’s headquarters in Hangzhou and its branch in California.

Jeffrey He, president of Hikvision’s U.S. and Canadian branch, defended the company during an undated interview with U.S. security monitoring website SourceSecurity.com.

“There have been some misguided accusations targeting Hikvision’s public and industry image, sometimes seeking to create controversy where none exists,” he said. “These questions are geared in general not just to Hikvision, but also to many Chinese manufacturers, and none of these accusations have been proven to be true. These accusations are baseless.

“The Cold War was officially over when the Berlin Wall came down, but I am seeing that, in the minds of some, it never ended,” he added. “We all would be better served if, instead of living in the past, we would look toward the future and the realities of world changes and technology changing along with it.”

Hikvision now has 35 branches in mainland China and 21 overseas subsidiaries with more than 18,000 employees. (VOA)

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Chinese Government Offers Free Removal of Intrauterine Devices Forced Upon Women Under the “One-Child Policy”

Documentary film-maker Ai Xiaoming, now 63, said she was forced to have an IUD fitted, but then left with it for decades with no further check-ups

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Removal of intrauterine devices
Women of China. Wikimedia
  • Partial relaxation of China’s family planning controls last year prompted the government to offer free removals of intrauterine devices forced upon a millions of women
  • Women of childbearing age have been offered free IUD removal under the new rules
  • Some 114 million women were registered as using IUDs by the Chinese government in 2006

New Delhi, August 23, 2017: The partial relaxation of China’s draconian family planning controls last year has prompted the government to offer free removals of intrauterine devices (IUDs) forced upon millions of women under the policy.

The offer has highlighted decades of state-enforced contraception and the failure of proper follow-up care under the “one-child policy,” which gave way to the “two-child policy” at the start of 2016.

Now, women of childbearing age have been offered free IUD removal under the new rules, but there are caveats.

The medical fee waiver only applies to women who are allowed to have another child or who cannot continue to have the IUD for health reasons.

Everyone else will have to pay their own medical bills.

Some 114 million women were registered as using IUDs by the Chinese government in 2006, the most recent year for which figures are available, state media reported.

Nearly eight million IUDs were fitted in China between 2000 and 2009 alone, but many women say they were never offered a check-up or replacement every 10 years, as is recommended with the devices.

A report from the country’s state family planning council showed at least 23 percent of IUDs were defective, leading to problems that could require surgical removal or hysterectomy.

“Many are enduring another painful process trying to have the device removed in order to have more children under the new policy,” the Global Times newspaper said in a recent report.

[bctt tweet=”China’s family planning policies hurt women, children and families.” username=”NewsGramdotcom”]

Some women have expressed outrage, saying the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s offer is too little, too late.

“The Chinese government has really acted shamelessly in doing this,” Annie Zhang, president of the U.S.-based group Women’s Rights in China, told RFA in a recent interview.

“They treat Chinese women as sub-human; you can have a baby if they say you can have one, but not if they say you can’t,” she said. “Even the spacing of the children is dictated by the party.”

“China’s family planning policies hurt women, children and families,” she said. “So many women have been sterilized; the figures are quite shocking, and that’s not including the women who died on the operating table or from infection.”

“And there has been no apology whatsoever from the government,” Zhang said.

Documentary film-maker Ai Xiaoming, now 63, said she was forced to have an IUD fitted, but then left with it for decades with no further check-ups.

“In the eyes of the Chinese government, women are seen as having a job to do,” Ai said. “If they tell you to have a baby, then you have to have one. If they don’t need babies, you can’t have one.”

Ai said her own IUD developed complications, meaning that she was forced to have a hysterectomy when it couldn’t be removed.

In Guangdong, the first province to implement the new population controls in January 2016, couples are still expected to accept sterilization after their regulation two children are born.

Also read: China scraps one child policy, to allow two children for all couples

And women who have had one child are still required to have an IUD fitted after the first birth, even if they plan to have a second under the new rules.

The Global Times newspaper quoted Nanjing-based population expert Sun Xiaoming as saying that around 25 percent of the women living in rural areas never had their IUDs removed at all, in spite of guidelines requiring their removal within six months of menopause.

They were never told that this was necessary, the paper said.

It quoted specialists as saying that some 26 million Chinese women will need to have an IUD removal operation in the next 10 years after hitting menopause, costing them a total of 2.6 billion yuan in medical bills. (RFA)