Australia and French National TV Investigate Hikvision, Australia Military To Remove Hikvision Cameras

By Charles Rollet, Published on Sep 12, 2018

An Australian National TV investigation on Chinese video surveillance has put a spotlight on Hikvision, including a promise from Australia's defense department to remove all other identified Hikvision cameras across Australia's military.

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The in-depth report comes only two days after a French national broadcaster released a show about Hikvision USA centering on fears of Chinese state espionage and cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

The media reports, both from flagship national broadcasters, cite the recent US government ban on both firms’ products as triggering heightening scrutiny of Hikvision and Dahua equipment worldwide. In this post, we summarize the broadcasts, their immediate impacts, and what they mean for Chinese video manufacturers’ global ambitions.

Australian Military Removes Hikvision Camera, Says Will Remove All Others

On September 12, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australia’s national broadcaster, released an episode titled “Chinese Video Surveillance Network Used by the Australian Government.

ABC revealed the presence of a Hikvision camera at the Edinburgh Royal Australian Air Force base. The Australian military considers the Edinburgh base "the centre of the nation's military intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and electronic warfare capabilities".

The ABC report caused Australia’s Defence Department to remove the camera. "Should any further cameras be identified they will also be replaced," Defence told the ABC. IPVM confirmed with the ABC that Defence was referring to all Australia's military, not just the Edinburgh base.

Other ABC Revelations

ABC also revealed the presence of a Dahua camera at the entrance of an office building housing highly sensitive Australian government agencies, including the Department of Home Affairs (which handles immigration and border control), the attorney general, and an intelligence agency.

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ABC found that this Dahua camera and another had a field of view including the Department of Prime Minister building and other top-level government agencies. ABC also raised concerns about an Australian Federal Police contract with a well-known Hikvision distributor and Hikvision/Dahua equipment in state and local offices and a train station.

Watch the ABC Australia 10-minute broadcast:

Hikvision Minority Analytics Mentioned / IPVM Cited

ABC also cited IPVM’s report about Hikvision’s minority analytics and mentioned the company’s alleged complicity in human rights abuses in Xinjiang province, which have resulted in the US government considering separate sanctions.

Australia-China Spying Context

For context, it is worth noting that China has a long history of espionage in Australia where it is reportedly "the most active foreign intelligence actor." Due to this history, Australia banned Chinese telecom giant Huawei from taking part in the country’s national 5G rollout and even revamped its national intelligence laws.

French State TV Covers Hikvision USA

Two days before ABC’s episode, major French state broadcaster France 2’s Washington bureau released a show about Hikvision’s troubles in the US titled “The USA: Under the Eye of Chinese Cameras.”

France 2’s report summarized the previous revelation that Hikvision cameras were at the US embassy in Kabul and the subsequent federal purchasing ban of Hikvision products. It also interviewed national security expert James Lewis raising concerns about firmware updates being exploited to access video for intelligence purposes.

No Mention of Hikvision France

France 2 did not report anything new that hasn’t been reported elsewhere about Hikvision. Most notably, it did not cover Hikvision or Dahua’s activities in France, which are considerable. As covered by IPVM, the French national police recently signed a contract for over 10,000 Hikvision body cameras.

Hidden Camera Used to Get Comments

Interestingly, France 2 said it was not granted official comment about Chinese state espionage from Hikvision USA, so it asked a Hikvision employee about the issue using a hidden camera.

The Hikvision employee claimed it was “technically impossible” to send video surveillance footage from Hikvision cameras to China because it would cause existing alarm systems to go off while the Chinese government has much more effective ways of conducting espionage than exploiting security cameras.

China-France Espionage Background

Chinese state espionage is less of a national fear in France, which has not banned any Chinese firms from participating in its economy. However, France isn’t immune to such concerns, and recently put two former French spies on trial for treason for allegedly being Chinese double agents.

Overall Impact: US Government Ban Heightening Scrutiny Worldwide

The common thread between the ABC and France 2’s reports is that both were centered on the US’ federal purchasing ban of Hikvision and Dahua equipment.

It is not surprising that following the ban, national security agencies and media organizations around the world are heightening scrutiny of these companies’ products. Although no countries have followed suit yet, it is possible other countries pass bans similar to those of the US, severely hampering Hikvision and Dahua’s global expansion efforts.

Steep Stock Price Drop

Both Dahua and Hikvision suffered steep stock price drops in today's trading, now each at 52-week lows:

How much of the drop is due to the Australia and France TV investigations vs yesterday's news about the Trump administration considering sanctions against Dahua and Hikvision is difficult to determine. However, the combination of these moves are clearly creating challenges for the companies.

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