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What, exactly, is the problem with Chinese CCTV cameras?

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

In a rush of hysteria and moral panic, Five Eyes governments are ripping out Chinese branded cameras. Five years ago, they couldn’t install them fast enough. What’s changed, asks chief editor Nicholas Dynon.


Nicholas Dynon is chief editor of NZSM, and a widely published commentator on New Zealand’s defence, national security and private security sectors.

The realities of a changing geopolitical landscape have recently hit New Zealand’s security industry with all the force of a ram-raiding Mazda Demio. As great power rivalry between US superpower incumbency and an ascendant China becomes a growing source of international insecurity, Five-Eyes governments are curbing their use of Chinese-branded CCTV cameras citing national security concerns.

Australia’s Department of Defence and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are ripping out Hikvision and Dahua CCTV cameras over spyware fears after an audit found more than 900 of them at government sites.


This follows earlier bans on Chinese- branded cameras by Australia’s AUKUS partners the US and UK.

Last year, the US government banned the import of Hikvision and Dahua cameras through its borders, having already for several years prohibited their purchase by government agencies. Several months ago, the UK government also banned its departments from purchasing new Chinese-made cameras but left open the question of what to do with existing installs.

As for the remainder of the Five Eyes grouping, Canada has not yet banned cameras of Chinese manufacture despite heavy lobbying from pro-ban interests, including the US-based IPVM, an influential security tech news portal and self- styled “world’s leading authority on physical security technology”.


Radio NZ reported last month that our own government’s main procurement unit said it had “not taken any decisions regarding specific companies”, leaving individual agencies responsible for vetting products and suppliers on security grounds.

In other parts of the Western world, Chinese branded cameras have been the subject of intense debate. In 2021 the EU Parliament voted to remove its Hikvision thermal cameras due to concerns over human rights abuses in China against the Uyghur ethnic minority, and in 2022 the Danish Capital Region banned Hikvision purchases over security concerns.



Outside of the Five Eyes and the EU, apart from an Indian government ban of Hikvision cameras from military and high-security areas, most of the rest of the world have not joined the prohibition push.

This has all been occurring within the context of the broader deterioration in relations between Xi Jinping’s China and the US. China is now viewed as a strategic competitor of the US and its allies, a rising and increasingly aggressive power, a threat to the rules- based international order, a potential adversary.

As a consequence, US supply chains in ‘strategic’ goods and services are decoupling from China. “Ecosystems involving semiconductors, AI, supercomputing, biotech, and quantum science, among others, will continue to decouple as Washington and Beijing engage in techno-nationalist competition and hybrid warfare,” wrote academic Alex Capri in a recent Forbes article.

The result, writes Capri, is a “bifurcation of the global tech sector” as both camps look to channel their strategic supply chains towards domestic production and ‘friendshoring’. As trade in strategic goods becomes balkanised and we edge seemingly closer to a new Cold War, we are confronted with the inevitable shrill of hawkish political and media commentary on both sides. Tabloids talk of “Chinese spy cameras”, “Beijing’s bird’s eye”; the aforementioned IPVM posts that it is proud to impose upon itself a “not made in PRC China” policy.

The poor quality of media commentary has created no shortage of questions and confusion within the New Zealand CCTV market – for manufacturers to distributors, integrators, and end users alike. Can Chinese cameras be controlled by the Chinese government? Are they really able to “phone home”? Are they more cyber vulnerable than other camera brands? Are they complicit in human rights abuses in China?

Before offering perspectives on these questions, it would be prudent to clarify NZSM’s – and my own – position in terms of our objectivity. NZSM’s revenue is generated through advertising, and it is usually the case that Chinese brands advertise in the magazine. We are grateful for their business, but we are not financially dependent on it, and nor are we editorially beholden to it.


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Copyright: New Zealand Security Magazine 2023

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