U.S. Sanctions Set to Bite Hikvision – But Bigger China Tech Threats Like YTMC Still Loom

The Financial Times reports that the U.S. government is preparing to sanction Hikvision, the Chinese surveillance technology giant. If enacted, these sanctions would cause an untold number of companies and foreign governments to run the risk of being sanctioned themselves, should they continue to use Hikvision equipment. There will be no choice but for companies and governments to rip and replace Hikvision technologies. This news of potential U.S. government action is certainly welcome. Not only could it help to stifle the Chinese government’s campaign of surreptitiously gathering mass quantities of data on the world’s citizens, but given that Hikvision has been known to put storage particles from YMTC in its gear, it could also  impact the chipmaker with deep ties to the Chinese military.

Hikvision’s connections to human rights abuses are already well-documented. In 2019, the U.S. Commerce Department effectively prohibited American firms from supplying technological components to the company because of its role in the Orwellian surveillance apparatus the Chinese government has constructed to oppress Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities. Hikvision is also well known for shipping gear to other oppressive regimes.

Of course, as China Tech Threat noted in a paper on Chinese artificial intelligence released last month, “What makes deployments of Chinese surveillance equipment around the world so concerning is that all companies based in China are obligated to follow the country’s 2017 Cybersecurity Law – an edict which mandates cooperation with state-initiated data sharing requests.” In light of that fact, it should concern every American that Hikvision had by 2017 put 750,000 devices inside the U.S., and has even managed to place products in U.S. military bases and diplomatic facilities. The Chinese government has probably already used images culled from Hikvision products to start compiling a facial recognition database of American national security personnel.

While the sanctions would be a positive development, there is still more work for the federal government to do to make sure the U.S. is completely free of Hikvision gear. As our friends at IPVM have noted, although Congress approved an FCC ban on import licenses for Hikvision devices in late 2021, the company still continues to market them inside the U.S. It’s time for the U.S. to actually implement this restriction.

Moreover, the selective restrictions on certain Chinese companies is not enough to keep us safe. In a filing submitted to the FCC in 2021 with Blue Path Labs, CTT co-founder Roslyn Layton noted, “Major U.S. action has restricted Huawei, ZTE, Hikvision and others, but there is nothing to stop other state-owned and state-affiliated companies from installing backdoors on any piece of Chinese hardware and/or manipulating the equipment’s’ control channel to other constituent devices which handle data streams.”  

Like Hikvision, YMTC poses grave threats to privacy, security, and supply chain resilience. As Apple prepares to ship millions  of iPhones with YMTC chips, the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) should heed the warnings of the national security community and the Biden White House and promptly add YMTC to the Entity List. Failing to do so will confirm critics’ assessment that security takes the back seat at BIS and that US and Chinese companies can game the export control regime.