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US bans Chinese telecom, surveillance cameras

Nik Martin
November 26, 2022

The US communications regulator singled out tech giants Huawei and ZTE and surveillance camera makers Hikvision and Dahua. Spy chiefs have warned that the US could be vulnerable to economic espionage or digital sabotage.

Video camera produced by Hikvision seen on a street in Shanghai, China on November 28, 2019
Hikvision has been accused of helping the Chinese government to build a massive police surveillance system against Uighur Muslims in XinjiangImage: Wang Gang/dpa/picture-alliance

US regulators on Friday announced a ban on Chinese telecommunications and video surveillance equipment deemed to pose a threat to national security.

The decision follows concerns raised by US intelligence agencies about potential snooping by Beijing and a law passed last year by Congress.

US lawmakers have also criticized how Chinese technology is widely used by Beijing authorities to commit human rights abuses domestically.

What has the US announced?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the US telecoms regulator, said in a news release that it had adopted the new rules in an attempt to protect the nation's communications network.

Equipment produced by Chinese tech giants Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corporation will be restricted. The two firms were already hit by crippling US sanctions during Donald Trump's presidency.

The new rules also target Hikvision and Dahua — whose video surveillance cameras are installed around the world, raising privacy concerns — as well as two-way radio maker Hytera.

US intelligence agencies believe the firms, which are subject to China's National Intelligence Law, could be forced to hand over information to Beijing's security services, although the companies have denied this.

Hikvision's cameras have been linked to the oppression of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in China's Xinjiang province.

"The FCC is committed to protecting our national security by ensuring that untrustworthy communications equipment is not authorized for use within our borders, and we are continuing that work here," Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said. "These new rules are an important part of our ongoing actions to protect the American people from national security threats involving telecommunications."

The additional curbs follow a 2018 ruling by Congress that US federal agencies should stop buying the five Chinese firms' equipment.

Last month, a report by Georgetown University's Center for Security and Emerging Technology found that between 2015 and 2021, nearly 1,700 state and local entities purchased equipment and services tied to the five Chinese firms.

It found that although the purchases did fall off after 2018, there were some 600 procurements last year.

The US has previously placed export controls on sophisticated US technology that could aid Chinese tech firms.

A view of a Huawei store in Beijing, China on December 7, 2018
Former US President Donald Trump adopted crippling sanctions on Huawei and ZTE in 2018Image: Zhao Xiaojun/dpa/picture alliance

'Unprecedented step'

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr wrote on Twitter that it was the first time in the regulator's history that executives voted to prohibit new equipment on national security concerns, calling it an "unprecedented step."

"As a result of our order, no new Huawei or ZTE equipment can be approved, " he wrote. "And no new Dahua, Hikvision, or Hytera gear can be approved unless they assure the FCC that their gear won’t be used for public safety, security of government facilities, and other national security purposes."

He added that the order included the authority to revoke existing authorizations on the five firms' technology.

Carr last month told Bloomberg that the Chinese social media giant TikTok should be banned in the US, again citing data flows to China that could potentially compromise national security. 

A TikTok logo is displayed on a phone screen in Krakow, Poland on June 6, 2022
Cybersecurity experts have warned TikTok users that the Chinese government could use the app to harvest their personal informationImage: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto/picture alliance

UK orders Chinese cameras to be replaced

On Thursday, the British government ordered its ministries to stop installing Chinese-made security cameras inside sensitive buildings, citing potential security risks.

Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden said in a written statement to parliament that ministries should consider replacing these cameras immediately rather than waiting to upgrade them.

In July, privacy advocacy group Big Brother Watch said the majority of surveillance cameras used by the British government were made by two Chinese companies: Hikvision and Dahua.

In 2020, DW revealed that the European Union was using Hikvision's thermal imaging cameras at its buildings in Brussels to screen for symptoms of COVID-19. 

With material from Reuters news agency

Edited by: John Silk