Australia Announces Removal of Hikvision Cameras, a Flash Point in a Month of High-Profile Surveillance News

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By Elizabeth Stokes | 1Q 2023 | IN-6854

Australia's Department of Defense announced in early February that it will remove Chinese-manufactured surveillance cameras from its buildings. The announcement came in a month already filled with highly publicized surveillance news and contributed to the fierce global debate about privacy.

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Surveillance in the News


Australia’s Department of Defense announced in early February that it will remove all Chinese-manufactured surveillance cameras from its buildings. The move came amid national security concerns regarding cameras from Hikvision and Dahua, the two largest video surveillance companies in the world whose ties with the Chinese state have concerned many western users.

The announcement was a flash point in a month already filled with high-profile surveillance news. A week before Australia’s statement, much of North America was captivated by a Chinese surveillance balloon visibly floating in the sky. While the balloon still hung in the air over the United States, the French government was loudly criticized by its citizens for its proposed video surveillance policy for the 2024 Paris Olympics. These events, which all occurred within three weeks of each other, could represent an inflection point in the debate around video surveillance and privacy.

A Growing Chorus of Concern


Hikvision and Dahua cameras are extremely popular around the world—together, the two companies own about 70% of the video surveillance market as measured in camera revenues. In 2017, the United States government warned that Hikvision cameras were vulnerable to remote hacking. Since that announcement, imports of cameras from both Hikvision and Dahua have been banned in the United States, and the British government discouraged their use in “sensitive” government sites. After Australia’s announcement this month, politicians in Ireland are now calling for a similar removal. Hikvision and Dahua have denied any wrongdoing on multiple occasions.

The bans on Chinese-manufactured cameras are a reminder to video surveillance vendors that this market is mired in international acrimony and distrust. However, surveillance vendors would be remiss to think that their main obstacle is one of international affairs. As governments continue to question the use of Chinese-manufactured cameras, citizens around the world are debating the use of all and any video surveillance tools, their origin notwithstanding. When the French senate passed a bill that said the country would use Artificial Intelligence (AI) cameras for the first time during the Paris Olympics, privacy activists publicly condemned the decision. When the Chinese surveillance balloon was making national news in western countries, the UK Surveillance Camera Commissioner appealed to citizens, saying their concerns should be brought down the earth; “I do not understand why we are not at least as concerned about the Chinese cameras six feet above our head in the street…”. As high-profile surveillance stories continue to lead the news, citizens will become more aware of surveillance cameras in their daily lives and will increasingly question how they are used. Video surveillance vendors should expect citizens and governments to become more vocal about their disapproval. As western governments have done with Hikvision and Dahua, citizen concerns could gain momentum and eventually lead to more regulation or total bans.

Transparent Answers and Future Compromise


Each time the surveillance debate can be personified—as an ominous balloon in the sky or as a camera in the corner of a government building—concerns about ethics and privacy reach a higher pitch. Video surveillance vendors should be sensitive to growing government and citizen concerns. Video surveillance companies, especially those involved in controversial technologies like facial recognition, should anticipate that both citizens and governments will ask more specific questions about the technology’s use and its origins in the future. These concerns should be answered truthfully and transparently.

Companies should also decide how they will navigate future video surveillance regulations. Highly publicized stories of video surveillance may further influence local governments to ban or heavily regulate surveillance cameras and accompanying AI technology. Facial recognition, for example, is banned in parts of the United States under certain circumstances and European Union lawmakers have considered banning its use in public places. Companies invested in this technology should be able to pivot if needed by making compromises similar to the one made by the French government earlier this month. When the French senate passed a bill that allowed AI video surveillance to be used during the Paris 2024 Olympics, the bill also stated that the technology would be used temporarily and would not include facial recognition. Companies and governments could make similar compromises to navigate ethics concerns, like investing in technology that recognizes people based on their clothing rather than faces or outlining a specific timeline and purpose for the use of surveillance technology. Companies could also choose to develop or invest in video surveillance technology that does not involve the tracking or identifying of people. Rather, video surveillance companies could divert their efforts to creating machine vision solutions for industrial use cases like product inspection and inventory management. By using cameras to track products instead of people, companies could still take advantage of advances in video AI while avoiding the thorny issues of personal privacy and surveillance. These compromises would allow companies and governments to protect citizens from abuse and protect themselves from future headline controversy. 



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