PoliticsForeign Policy


Surveillance For Sale: Cameras On Amazon Tied To China Military, Abuse

Dahua and Hikvision are accused of being connected to China's military and human rights abuses. Amazon profits by selling their products online.
Posted at 3:49 PM, Apr 12, 2021

It looks like any other wireless security camera you could buy on Amazon. 

But this one is made by Dahua — one of a few Chinese surveillance providers the U.S. Defense Department and NASA are banned from doing business with. The government says the companies support China’s military — meaning whatever the camera sees could end up there. 

"The idea that the footage can be taken by the Chinese is not even theoretical. It is absolutely verified."

That’s retired Brigadier Gen. Robert Spalding, who previously led strategy for the National Security Council at the White House.

"Having a device in your home is the same as if you had a tunnel that had been dug from an enemy's location up through your house, coming in through your living room," he says.

But there’s more. The U.S. blacklisted Dahua for human rights abuses: An estimated one million people have been sent to internment camps in China — the Biden administration calling it genocide. Dahua is accused of contributing by sharing its technology to monitor minorities, especially an ethnic group called Uyghurs.

With a few clicks, Newsy found Dahua cameras being sold in plain sight on Amazon — and there are no warnings alerting customers of government ties or human rights violations. 

That’s also true for China’s Hikvision, a company accused by the U.S. of the same transgressions, and that bills itself as the world’s "largest manufacturer of video surveillance products."

Hikvision’s digital storefront still stands — along with a subsidiary whose products include a baby monitor compatible with Amazon Alexa. Other shops sell the companies’ products — and have names like “DC Security” even though they’re based in China. 

Selling their products isn’t illegal, but it does raise ethical questions for tech analysts like Lindsay Gorman. 

"Companies like Amazon need to have robust due diligence practices and do a scan of all their products, where they source them, and understand really deeply the connections between those products and some of the abuses we've seen," she says.

Officials from Hikvision and Dahua tell Newsy they aren’t connected to China’s military or the repression of civilians. A Hikvision spokesperson says it’s engaging with governments globally to clarify “misunderstandings.” 

Amazon says it aspires to be the "Earth’s most customer-centric company" and tells us it's still in compliance with the law. But an employee speaking on condition of anonymity says there’s "too much" to keep track of. Candidly, Amazon is "too big."

The company also says it hastily purchased Dahua thermal cameras in 2020 to protect employees from COVID-19 but doesn’t intend on buying more.