Hikvision Objects To Xinjiang Answers, Claims "Commercially Sensitive Information"

By Charles Rollet, Published Mar 24, 2022, 09:06am EDT

After 8 months of refusing to answer questions from a top UK official about its Xinjiang involvement, Hikvision now claims this would risk revealing "commercially sensitive information".

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Hikvision did not provide any evidence about how this information is "commercially sensitive." In contrast, in the past Hikvision has openly published key details of its Xinjiang projects including price, camera counts, and more.

In this note, IPVM examines Hikvision's latest claim. Hikvision did not respond to IPVM's comment requests for this article.

"Commercially Sensitive" Claimed

Last week, Biometrics And Surveillance Camera Commissioner Fraser Sampson threatened to pull out of a national surveillance conference (where Hikvision is exhibiting) if Hikvision remains "unwilling to answer" his questions about Xinjiang.

In response, Hikvision claimed "we welcome" a conversation, but did not want to disclose "any commercially sensitive information" that would be covered by "anti-Hikvision and anti-China platforms":

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This resulted in Sampson cancelling his conference appearance, calling for "honest and evidence-based debate". In October 2021, Hikvision said it would only meet in private on the issue, a condition Sampson rejected "as an independent officeholder advocating for transparency".

Xinjiang Questions Examined

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Sampson's questions (posed in letters from July and August 2021) ask basic questions about Hikvision's Xinjiang presence and its view of human rights abuses against Uyghurs.

For example, one of the questions is whether Hikvision accepts the "basic premise" that "crimes are being committed against the Uyghurs":

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Another asks whether Hikvision has "knowledge of the use(s) of its surveillance camera systems in the internment facilities?"

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And another asks whether Hikvision can "confirm the role and contribution" it plays in five Xinjiang police projects it is contracted to build and operate worth ~$300 million:

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Hikvision did not respond to IPVM's request for comment about how these questions touch on "commercially sensitive" matters.

Commissioner Response

Sampson told IPVM that Hikvision is conflating commercial confidentiality - things like trade secrets which companies can legally protect from disclosure - and "sensitivity" which can apply to anything that attracts scrutiny. Sampson added that Hikvision's answers so far "say nothing but their response tells us everything":

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Of course nothing in what I have asked might even remotely be characterised as commercially confidential - that it is commercially sensitive is very clear to everyone but that's not the same thing

Transparency is an essential element of public accountability. As I’ve said many times, Hikvision’s answers to my questions say nothing but their response tells us everything. [emphasis added]

Sampson also noted that Hikvision "might not be free to answer" in his latest letter:

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In the meantime, I have noted the content of your letter sent on the same day as you attended the IPSA event and am bound to say that I cannot see how the questions I have asked engage matters of commercial confidentiality; I do however understand that you might not be free to answer them [emphasis added]

Hikvision is created and controlled by the same government accused of genocide and crimes against humanity against the Uyghurs. Sampson told The Telegraph there remains "serious ethical and human rights concerns in procuring equipment from companies accused of genocide and human rights violations".

Hikvision Openly Touted Xinjiang Projects

Even though Hikvision is now claiming information about its Xinjiang police projects is "commercially sensitive", in the past, it publicly boasted about its Xinjiang police work.

For example, in 2017, Hikvision published a post on its website touting it had directly won a $78 million project with Urumqi police including 30,000 cameras, a "video analysis center", and other features:

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The link was up for several years but was deleted after 2019, when Hikvision got sanctioned by the US for human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Hikvision Boasted About Human Rights Sanctions

One of Sampson's questions includes whether Hikvision accepts the "basic premise" that "crimes are being committed against the Uyghurs".

Hikvision claims that such a question is "commercially sensitive", but in a company-produced video from January 2020, Hikvision made its view on Uyghur human rights abuses clear. The video showcases a Hikvision Xinjiang employee saying "the most memorable thing" was "when a customer told me: we support any business that is sanctioned by the US":

The video was deleted shortly after IPVM reported on it.

Hikvision's Lack Of Transparency Unlikely To Change

Hikvision has had over 8 months to answer Sampson's questions but keeps creating new justifications not to. In October, Hikvision told Sampson it could only discuss this topic off-the-record, and now it says these issues are "commercially sensitive".

The core problem remains the same: Hikvision's lack of any transparency on this subject. Hikvision could theoretically change this by openly answering Sampson's questions and further measures such as making public its own Xinjiang human rights investigation, which found it did not "knowingly" commit abuses.

However, such transparency would create new problems for Hikvision given how extensively involved it is in Xinjiang, meaning openness remains unlikely.

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Comments (1)

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I have to ask the question, is the red guy in the picture holding up his hand to stay stop asking questions, or flipping off Sampson? I'm going with flipping off.

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