Hikvision AI Training In Xinjiang Paramilitary Base, Now Denies

By: IPVM Team, Published on Mar 10, 2020

Hikvision has been listing AI training in a Xinjiang paramilitary base that bans Uyghurs from participating. However, Hikvision is now denying it and deleted evidence.

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This revelation comes despite Hikvision's repeated claims amid US sanctions that it "respects human rights" and is "taking a hard look" at its operations.

IPVM found over a dozen discriminatory Hikvision job ads for work located inside a People's Armed Police base, a branch of the PRC military, raising concerns from many experts. IPVM also found separate ads showing that Hikvision continues to work on large-scale Xinjiang surveillance projects. Hikvision deleted all the ads shortly after IPVM contacted them for this story.

IPVM's findings indicate that Hikvision's involvement with Xinjiang surveillance is even more extensive than initially realized and has continued despite US sanctions, a media outcry, and Hikvision's own rhetoric.

Hikvision in Xinjiang Background

Hikvision has a substantial record of troubling Xinjiang operations, including installing facial recognition in 1,000 mosques, winning almost $300m of police surveillance projects, and touting a Uyghur-detecting AI camera. These kinds of activities resulted in US government human rights sanctions in October 2019.

Hikvision Human Rights Claims

Amid unprecedented scrutiny of its Xinjiang activities, Hikvision repeatedly claimed it's taking human rights "seriously":

Hikvision, as the security industry's global leader, respects human rights and takes our responsibility to protect people in the U.S. and the world seriously.

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We have never and would never conduct business operations that are based on the condition of violating human rights.

Notably, in April 2019, Hikvision disclosed in its first-ever Environmental, Social, and Governance report that it was "taking a hard look" at its human rights compliance and had hired D.C. law firm Arent Fox to "better protect human rights" and do a review. Hikvision has not mentioned the review since.

And Hikvision declined to comment on what happened to that review, saying:

thank you for your inquiry, we decline to comment on the matter.

Hikvision CEO Met With State Department

Hikvision also made its case to the US government. In October 2018, Hikvision lobbyist and former US senator David Vitter set up a meeting between Hikvision CEO Hu Yangzhong and "key leaders in the State Department and the Commerce Department", according to a call obtained by IPVM:

we've gone in a very significant, but targeted way, to the real decision makers who are involved in these issues, going back to last October, we had Mr. Hu in for meetings with key leaders in the State Department and the Commerce Department. And let me say in passing that Mr. Hu was very, very effective in terms of his presence, and his presentation.

Hikvision's Xinjiang R&D Center

However, IPVM noticed recently that a link on Hikvision's own China website said the firm had a research center in Xinjiang. Hikvision even published a map showing it:

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However, despite this being on their own website, Hikvision told us today:

Hikvision does not have a research institute in Xinjiang, and has corrected any information to the contrary on its website.

Update: Hikvision has now removed the image of its R&D centers entirely.

Xinjiang Surveillance Projects Continuing

IPVM then searched through R&D jobs for Hikvision's regular branch office in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi. One January 2020 job posting shows the firm continues to hire personnel to work on large-scale government security projects in Xinjiang. The job is for a Senior System Integration Design Engineer (Safe City Track), requiring candidates to:

Host the integrated design of large-scale safe city projects, organize project professional design engineers, and output the overall integrated design files of the project. Job requirements: 5 years or above experience in designing large-scale integrated projects in the public security, transportation or government industries. Pay 15-20,000 RMB per month ($2,100-$2,800). [emphasis added]

In the PRC, "Safe Cities" are government surveillance projects run by local police. Some of the controversial surveillance deals won by Dahua and Hikvision in Xinjiang were classified as "Safe City" projects.

Hikvision deleted this ad and claims that it was for commercial clients, though 'large-scale safe city' projects are virtually, by definition, government work.

Hikvision Hiring At A Paramilitary Base

IPVM was also able to find over a dozen job ads for the Hikvision Xinjiang Research Institute (杭州海康威视新疆研究院) calling for staff to live and work at an "Armed Police Force camp" in Urumqi.

Ads, for example, this May 2019 one, are titled:

Hangzhou Hikvision Xinjiang Research Institute recruits 5 staff members to eat and sleep in (army) work packages

杭州海康威视新疆研究院招聘5名工作人员在(部队)工作包吃住宿

The ads include details of where the work will be done, e.g.:

The working place is 500 meters behind the Fuqian Road Chinese Medicine Hospital in Urumqi, and the office is located in the Armed Police Force camp.

工作地点在乌鲁木齐米东区府前路中医院后面500米武警部队营地办公住宿。

The workers are "mainly responsible for labeling image or video samples in an office working environment with computers". Image/video labeling is an increasingly common job all over the PRC due to the explosion of AI, as labeling is a key part of training AI systems.

Billingual Applicants Sought

Some of the ads (like this one) specifically called for bilingual (i.e., Han and Uyghur speaking) candidates. This may explain why Hikvision hired labelers in Xinjiang rather than elsewhere in China, i.e., they are working on Xinjiang-specific AI that requires knowledge of Uyghur language.

Hikvision HR "Directly" Hiring

These job ads are "directly by the Hangzhou Hikvision Human Resources Department":

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While Hikvision acknowledges the job ads, they say the ads were meant for commercial, not government projects:

The Hikvision job ads in Urumqi were intended for our Enterprise Business Group to service commercial enterprises and not work on government projects. We have since removed the job ads to remove any confusion about their intent and will update them accordingly.

PAP Base Location

The job ads specify that workers will live and work in a People's Armed Police camp "500 meters behind the Fuqian Road Chinese Medicine Hospital" in Urumqi. This makes it easy to find the camp on satellite images. IPVM was able to confirm this was the camp as the listings have photos that correspond directly to the aerial images.

The image below is the "office"- note the large square window, covered passageway, and trees:

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And here is the "dorm":

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On Baidu maps, this facility is listed as an ordinary police station. This is no surprise as PRC law states that military bases' locations (including the PAP) cannot be made public. On Hikvision's job ads, it unambiguously stated that this is a PAP base.

The aerial image below shows the office and dormitory for the base side-by-side:

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Non-Han Applicants Banned

All of the job ads explicitly discriminated against minorities, saying they only allowed Han applicants, especially notable given that Xinjiang is over 40% Uyghur. Here is one example:

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Such obvious discrimination is justified by claiming the facility had no halal food:

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Xinjiang expert Professor James Leibold told IPVM that ads barring Uyghurs are common in Xinjiang even if technically illegal, although in this case, the discrimination may have been due to "the sensitivity of this work". (Hikvision's regular Xinjiang branch office ads do not include this kind of language.)

Working Conditions

The employees are paid about 3200 to 5000 RMB ($420-$720) and must be between 18-30 with at least a junior high school education. The work is described as a "simple operation" although "experience in security related industries is preferred". Employees live in dorms with shared rooms/facilities.

People's Armed Police Overview

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The PAP, with 1.5 million members, is a branch of the PRC military that deals with riot control, anti-terrorism, etc. There is no direct US equivalent for such an agency, however there are analogs elsewhere like France's Gendarmerie. In Xinjiang, the PAP are known for their role cracking down on the 2009 Urumqi riots. To the right is a PAP unit guarding Beijing during the 2008 Olympics (image by Hayato Chiba):

Full List of PAP Base Job Posts

Here are all the listings Hikvision posted for the PAP base job found by IPVM. This particular job was advertised openly for over two years.

Hikvision Deletes All Job Ads

Less than a day after IPVM contacted Hikvision for this story, the company deleted all the job ads we mentioned (here for example):

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Hikvision Response

Hikvision's full response to IPVM is included below:

Hikvision has not at any time retained the external staffing services of Mai Bang Nuo Human Resources Co.,. Ltd. As such, Hikvision did not approve the release of these job ads. Furthermore, Hikvision does not have a research institute in Xinjiang, and has corrected any information to the contrary on its website.

The Hikvision job ads in Urumqi were intended for our Enterprise Business Group to service commercial enterprises and not work on government projects. We have since removed the job ads to remove any confusion about their intent and will update them accordingly.

Hikvision respects all human rights as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international covenants, and we integrate these provisions into our daily work processes and policies. Regarding Hikvision’s recruitment policy, we are committed to providing equal job opportunities to every gender, age, nationality, religion and other protected classes, per common non-discrimination policies.

Hikvision does admit these are their job ads and those ads clearly listed the PAP / Army Base. Moreover, Hikvision's own current website says they have a Xinjiang research institute.

Experts Respond: Hikvision in "Hall of Shame", Work "Likely Related" to Xinjiang Surveillance State

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James Leibold, a professor at Australia's La Trobe University and expert on Xinjiang, told IPVM the PAP base work is likely related to the PRC government's use of AI surveillance against Uyghurs:

The R&D work is likely related to Hikivision’s AI-enhanced surveillance systems, and part of the efforts by Xinjiang Party authorities to build one of the world’s most sophisticated techno-surveillance networks in Xinjiang. This system seeks to create an intimate persuasion architecture that watches, judges and ultimately lures or nudges Uyghurs and other minorities in a more compliant direction. Its goal is not only control but also the transformation of thoughts and behaviour. The sensitivity of this work is the likely reason why Uyghurs are excluded from applying and why the work is conducted inside a highly secure PAP facility outside Urumqi. [emphasis added]

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Louisa Greve, communications director for activist group Uyghur Human Rights Project, said Hikvision "belongs in a hall of shame", adding that using lack of halal food as an excuse to ban Uyghurs was a "cruel farce":

Hikvision belongs in a hall of shame for helping the Chinese Party-state construct a total-surveillance nightmare in the Uyghur Region [...] The Chinese government launched a huge "anti-halal" campaign in 2018, throwing Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims into detention for observing a basic tenet of their religion. For the People's Armed Police (PAP) and Hikvision to pretend to respect Muslims' observance of a halal diet is a cruel farce. [emphasis added]

Maya Wang, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the job postings IPVM found indicate that PRC firms are closer to the PRC government than they portray to the outside world:

A lot of these companies often present themselves as kind of private enterprises that are separate from the Chinese government, and I think this kind of evidence suggests that at least some of them are quite closer to China's military police complex than they like to portray. [emphasis added]

Conclusion

Hikvision is even more deeply involved in PRC government surveillance efforts in Xinjiang than previously publicly known.

The fact that it has done AI-related work at PAP base while discriminating against Uyghurs throws cold water on its claims of caring about human rights. It also harms Hikvision's attempts to distance themselves from the PRC government, their controlling shareholder.

While the company has spent millions on lobbying the US government to lift the ban and sanctions, this evidence undercuts their claims.

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Comments (4)

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Keep in mind, this is the same company that covered up their Uyghur analytics a few months:

Now, they are trying to deny their own website and spin that the ads they acknowledge are for Hikvision are not being done at the PAP base the ads say they are being run at.

And last year, Hikvision won credit for their commitment to a human rights investigation and hiring the Ambassador. Since then, nothing on that investigation. Deleting things. Excuses here.

Hikvision and its proponents like to dismiss US sanctions as political but this shows how deeply involved Hikvision continues to be with Xinjiang surveillance.

Great article from a “blog site”. Well done IPVM. Our organisation just did a presentation and demo to an end-user that had 100’s of HikVision cameras on their site - and I’m still amazed at their lack of empathy/compassion - re: Uyghur policies and the dictatorship that exists in China with respect to their buying decision of all those cheap HikVision cameras.

Made in China: HikVision and Coronavirus.

Until we joined this site I had no idea about the insideous evil Hikvision has been pepetuating. I am ashamed of every Tru(Hik)vision camera we have ever purchased and still support. I made purchasing decisions based solely on features, quality, cost and integation into our existing plant. I have no choice but to maintain this TruHikVision legacy until we select and implement a new VMS and even then the existing cameras will likely have to age out since we still have 500+ 20 year old GE (probably Hik) analog cameras in service that we haven't funded for replacement let alone the 800 IP TruHikVision cameras

Thanks to IPVM, I am now aware of the true social impact of these purchasing decisions. Thanks to IPVM for opening my eyes to the dark side of the HikVision Dahua PRC technoState.

Internal concern & consensus has led to a policy change at our company. No new installations will be specified with any HIK components.

This places us at a competitive pricing disadvantage, but improves our ability to differentiate our offering to clients. It is an important message, and one our team has embraced.

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