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FCC proposes ban on Chinese surveillance cameras, other products

Surveillance cameras manufactured by Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co. are mounted on a post at a testing station near the company's headquarters in Hangzhou, China. The surveillance equipment, widely used in US schools, would be banned under an FCC proposal, which also targets products by four other Chinese electronics companies.
Surveillance cameras manufactured by Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co. are mounted on a post at a testing station near the company's headquarters in Hangzhou, China. The surveillance equipment, widely used in US schools, would be banned under an FCC proposal, which also targets products by four other Chinese electronics companies.Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

US regulators proposed a ban on products from Huawei Technologies Co. and four other Chinese electronics companies, including surveillance cameras widely used by schools but linked to oppression in western China, stepping up pressure on tech suppliers alleged to be security risks.

Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co. and Dahua Technology Co., whose cameras can be found in US schools and local government facilities, were targeted in an order the Federal Communications Commission adopted in a 4-0 vote on Thursday. Also named in the order were telecom giant ZTE Corp. and two-way radio maker Hytera Communications Corp.

The order would forbid US sales of specified telecommunications and surveillance equipment from the companies. The action begins a period of review before a final vote on the matter.

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“We are taking direct action to exclude untrusted equipment and vendors from communications networks,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

In the proposal, the FCC said it also may revoke its previous authorization for equipment from the companies, a step that could force schools and other US customers to replace the camera systems.

The FCC action represents another step after “years of Huawei warnings,” said Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute whose focus includes US economic relations with Asia. “Any recent purchasers of Chinese telecom equipment who have been expecting years of use and now must exchange equipment should have known better.”

In its draft order, the FCC didn’t say how quickly affected gear would need to be removed, and it asked for comments on the “appropriate and reasonable transition period.”

“This could include a transition period for non-conforming equipment,” according to the order.

The FCC, Congress, and the White House have pushed to ensure Huawei and ZTE gear isn’t used in US networks, citing risks of cyber-espionage that the companies deny. In 2018 Congress voted to stop federal agencies from buying gear from the five companies now subject to FCC pressure. Last year the agency put the companies on a list of providers whose products are deemed a national security threat.

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“The FCC must do all it can within its legal authority to address national security threats,” Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said in a statement before the vote. The move begins a period of review and possible revision before a final vote. There is no date set for that.

Huawei, which markets phones in the United States, said in a statement that the proposed FCC steps were “misguided and unnecessarily punitive.”

Hikvision in an e-mail said its designation as a threat isn’t substantiated, and it “strongly opposes” the FCC measure. Dahua said it “does not and never has represented any type of threat to US national security.” It called the FCC’s proceeding “unwarranted.”

Hytera said its products “don’t impose any threats to any country’s national security” and called the FCC’s approach inconsistent with the US government’s standard practice for evaluating and mitigating risk.

President Biden has continued to pressure China following tense relations with that country under his predecessor, Donald Trump. In recent weeks Biden has urged allies to confront China on alleged human rights abuses, including at the recently concluded Group of Seven summit in the UK.

Congress may weigh in, too. The FCC would be prohibited from reviewing or issuing new equipment licenses to companies on the agency’s list of suspect equipment or services under a bill announced June 15 by Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat, and Representative Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican.

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Hikvision and Dahua have been accused by US officials of involvement in China’s crackdown in far western Xinjiang, where as many as a million Uyghur Muslims have been placed in mass detention camps. China has repeatedly denied any accusations of human rights abuses against its Uyghur minority.

Still, the two companies remain leading suppliers of surveillance gear in the United States, and together may sell about 1 million cameras this year, according to Conor Healy, government director for the surveillance research group IPVM.