A UK CCTV watchdog has criticized a Chinese company for failing to disclose if it uses its cameras in Uyghur internment camp camps.
Professor Fraser Sampson said, “If your company wasn’t involved in such awful places wouldn’t it be very keen for you to say so?”
MPs stated that Hikvision was the “primary camera technology” used by Uyghur internment camp guards in July.
According to the company, it respects human rights.
On 8 July, MPs on the foreign affairs committee published a report: “Cameras made by the Chinese firm Hikvision has been deployed throughout Xinjiang, and provide the primary camera technology used in the internment camps.”
Over a million Uyghurs, and other minorities, are believed to have been held in camps in the northwest region of Xinjiang. There, allegations of torture, forced labor, and sexual abuse have surfaced.
China denied the claims and claimed that the camps were “reeducation” facilities meant to fight terrorism.
Hikvision should not be allowed to operate in the UK, according to the foreign affairs committee.
In June, President Biden signed an executive order prohibiting US investments in Hikvision.
Hikvision cameras are used extensively in the UK by local councils.
In a letter sent to “partners” after the report’s publication, Hikvision wrote that the committee’s accusations were
“Unsubstantiated and not underpinned by evidence.”
It called the suggestion for a ban “a knee-jerk reaction…disproportionate, ill-measured and reinforced the idea that this was motivated by political influence”.
On 16 July, Professor Sampson, the UK Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner followed up that response, asking the company if it accepted that crimes are being committed against the Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in Xinjiang.
In a reply sent this week, Justin Hollis, Hikvision’s Marketing Director for UK & Ireland, wrote: “It is beyond our capability to make a judgment on this matter, particularly against a backdrop where the debate surrounding the Xinjiang issue comes with clashing geopolitical views.”
According to the firm, it was hard to answer “narrow pointed” questions on paper because it was afraid of what it called a media “kangaroo trial.”
The report stated that Pierre-Richard Prosper (ex-US Ambassador-at-Large) had completed independent information on Hikvision’s participation in the five projects in Xinjiang. He concluded that: “We don’t find Hikvision intended to engage in human rights violations or find that Hikvision knowingly, intentionally, or acted in wilful disregard.”
The company previously stated that it had hired Ambassador Prosper’s law firm “to advise on compliance with human rights.”
Hikvision stated that it fully supports the UN principles of business ethics and human rights.
According to the firm, it does not monitor or control devices that are handed to installers. They also stated that operational matters are beyond their control.
Professor Sampson said that the answers to the letter were not satisfactory and that he would like to know if the cameras were used in internment camps.
“Saying that we are not involved in operations or that we don’t have any control over their actions isn’t the right answer.”
He wrote: “Our parliamentary panel accepted that these internment camps exist and that sophisticated surveillance technology is enabling substantial and sustained human right abuses to be enabled.” I need to know the extent of Hikvision’s involvement.
He stated that he wasn’t impressed with the information he heard and was not convinced he received a complete account.
The company invited Professor Sampson and Ambassador Prosper to meet, but the Commissioner says he only wants to hear “Basic questions.”
Hikvision stated: that they were looking forward to meeting with the Biometrics and Surveillance Commissioner and had nothing to add to their letter.