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China’s Hikvision controls India’s surveillance market. Modi needs to do more than ban apps

Hikvision is central to China’s ambitions to become the world’s leading supplier of surveillance systems. And it has cleverly projected itself as part of Make in India initiative.

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Of the 59 Chinese apps banned by the Narendra Modi government, all the buzz has been over TikTok. But there is one Chinese company that dominates India’s CCTV market that never made it into the list. It is named Hikvision, which has cleverly projected itself as part of the prime minister’s ‘Make in India’ initiative.

Just last week, the US Department of Defense named Hikvision, along with 19 other firms, as being “either owned or controlled by the Chinese military”. In fact, the US had already invoked the National Defense Authorization Act and prohibited government agencies from purchasing video surveillance products from Hikvision. The Australian government has expressed similar concerns, and there was even an uproar in the UK.

The wars of tomorrow will be fought as much in our mountains as in the technology sphere. The troughs along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) will shape our conflicts as much as a 5G network. We need to reclaim our physical territory as much as take back our digital spaces. The Modi government’s app ban does not even begin to scratch the surface.

Also read: Banning apps violates WTO rules, will affect employment of Indians: Chinese embassy

Hikvision’s domination

Hikvision is one of the world’s largest video surveillance companies producing both hardware and software tools. It is central to China’s ambitions to become the world’s leading supplier of surveillance systems. Hikvision sells cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) allowing security agencies to monitor railway stations, roads, etc. It is a darling of the Communist Party of China (CPC), having been heralded as a ‘national AI Champion” in 2019.

As per a 2019 report, around 42 per cent of the company is controlled by state enterprises, with China Electronics Technology HIK Group owning nearly 40 per cent. Hikvision controlled 21 per cent of the world’s CCTV market in 2017.

Hikvision exists in India under the name Prama Hikvision Indian Private Limited. As per reports, Hikvision enjoys over 35 per cent market share in India. Its 2019 annual report said it has established a local factory in India — its first overseas production base. It is 58 per cent owned by the parent Chinese company. The Indian partner is Ashish P. Dhakan, who started the collaboration in 2005. It has declared serious investment plans for India.

Hikvision had presented itself as a significant Make in India partner at the 2018 IFSEC Conference — South Asia’s largest security conference — held in New Delhi. As per the 2018 annual report, the company made “major project breakthroughs in India”.

That year, it won a tender from the Delhi government to install 1.5 lakh CCTV cameras in the national capital. It is also listed as a vendor by Bharat Electronics (BEL), which works on highly sensitive and classified defence projects for the government of India. More worryingly, Hikvision has allegedly also supplied solutions to Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), and the Special Protection Group (SPG), which is responsible for the security of the prime minister.

Clearly, the security and privacy risks at play here are best left to one’s imagination.

This leaves India with a tricky situation. Admittedly such companies do create secondary economic benefits for India with the local assembly and selling units creating jobs at home. However, there is arguably a bigger price India  pays in terms of handing its CCTV grid to a country that is in no mood to offer any concessions to us.

Also read: Shut up and put up — What Chinese companies in India should do as Galwan crisis continues

What India can do

For starters, the Modi government needs to make a clear list or database of all its current installations. Second, it needs to review all installations that would be considered critical or with a national security implication, and then  seriously consider replacing them with a local alternative. If that is not feasible, the government needs to wrap such installations with third party (non-Chinese) encryption tools, which would disable any back doors that may exist.

Third, India must prohibit Hikvision from participating in any ongoing or future government tenders. Fourth, the government needs to contemplate increasing local ownership and control of the Indian subsidiary. An innovative solution would be to purchase the 58 per cent stake in Hikvision — either the government could be an investor or it could be enabled by other Indian businesses or funds. Fifth, the Modi government needs to impose a legal obligation for regular audits to check for any security vulnerabilities with serious penalties for non-compliance or negligence.

Lastly, like the Chinese, India too needs to create local champions. In India, this is always the hardest part — less access to capital, poor procurement processes, etc. Most of the technology and subcomponents for Hikvision come from the United States. It is important to remind ourselves that with enough government support, India too can build local champions of technology.

Often those on the government procurement side use price as an excuse to prefer Chinese over Indian vendors. But it’s a lazy argument. Yes, Chinese vendors and their products are often cheaper, but it is because they have worked on these things for decades. Cheap is also not always better and certainly not more secure.

As India considers the next steps, it is important to not penalise and demonise the Indian entrepreneur behind the local subsidiary. They are not to blame.

It shouldn’t take a border stand-off and loss of lives for such issues to be tackled head-on.

Vinayak Dalmia works in the national security area and writes frequently on security affairs & geopolitics. He tweets at @vinayakdalmia. Views are personal.

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  1. The government should also think to banning TCL and Hisense brands in India, as they are owned by the PRC government..

  2. Other than TCL the Modi government should ban TCL, Hisense TV and smartphones in India. They are owned by Chinese government ..

  3. Check out Methodex Indian competition to Hikvision they are present some prestigious bank and defense establishments. Govt should incentivise by giving attractive GST import duty on foreign brand to be made 100%

  4. Guys check on Methodex a make in india initiative and they have CCTV as part of security surveillance offering. They are present in some of the major Banks and some defense establishments. Govt should promote.

  5. Chinese have alternatives whereas we depend on US from social media to E-mails thats the strength we as Indians work for US Company’s .If US could give at the cost which china offer’s this issue of security eve’s dropping wouldn’t be there .One thing can you assure if we buy US product they will not do the same as China collecting info about us .Hence request Modiji to increase the dependency upon ourselves instead of going to others Why depend on other countries for IT related stuff when Indian’s are used by US for their benefit we as a IT Brain is used by others like US & other countries,what is alternative to whatsup, facebook,gmail etc… The chinese makes the difference here they can beat US by not depending on their apps whereas we depend on US.. I think with Modiji’s help & more support to industries we can be independent like China , not supporting China here but their fight in business dictated by US by tax enhancement

  6. A very well written article with a serious truth. Time to ban some Chinese hardware too like Hikvision, Xiaomi phones.

  7. The most urgent and security of India related
    Issue. The author has right fully laid bare the threat india faces. As common proud citizens, we urge our govt to Rectify this threat of Hikvision surveillance system at our security institutions and other nation building departments. This is the priority after ban on Chinese apps.

  8. You claim to be a security expert the you should know it is not the camera it is where the data is stored. Data is stored locally not even on networks . I have hikvision camera in my house and DVR is in my bedroom. We know you are Modi haters and India bashers, but for god sake show some journalistic values and stop confusing people by writing baseless articles.

  9. Jingoist articles are floating around without any understanding of the matter. No wonder India is still lagging behind other nations.

    Exploiting their technology for our growth is what we should mainly do. Keeping away Chinese inexpensive mass produced products are going to negatively affect our economy.

    If we’re banning products without replacement that’ll be shoot in our own foot.

    Let’s consider this surveillance sector, if the cheap surveillance systems are unavailable to the public they’ll quit using such systems as a whole. Result would be lack of surveillance, and lack of evidences of crimes. Needless to say the small Indian surveillance companies that’ll run out of business.

    The enmity of USA and China is no secret. Why can’t USA “ban” every chinese product? Think!

    • No new buy of chinese goods including surveillance equipment by Govt and public is the need of the hour and future.

      Public and private companies are required to be geared up for R&D and mass production. Companies such as ECIL should be made accountable to meet the challenge.

      Immediate ban on chinese goods made out of paper, rubber, plastic, metal, wood (which were till recently manufactured in India).

      Companies such BEL, ECIL, CEL and state companies such as UPTRON, WEBEL, KELTRON (which produced semiconductors once but now dead) should be revived and given targets.

      Companies currently ‘manufacturing’ mobile sets and other semiconductor based equipments are actually assembling and marketing as ‘Make in India’. These companies are required to be forced either to make in India or shut the shop. They should be held accountable for their past bluffing.

      There will be no actual progress until we ourself make semiconductor devices since every product has brain of semiconductor in it.

      But no new buy of chinese goods and services and also no buy from companies in which chinese have stakes.

  10. The author’s suggestion is very appropriate and timely. There are thousands of Entrepreneurs of Indian origin all over the world engaged in IT, AI and Surveillance technologies. Let’s harness their talents, enterprise and patriotism and carefully cut all the conduits that siphon off profit, or even a part of it, to China.

  11. A welcome article showing concern for national security in theprint. But one thing is not understandable why this article appears after Modi Government bans some apps. All our intellectuals should come out and spell out what we as a nation need to do to meet threats from China or any other enemy country. Most of Our journalists working in news media can do is -to churn out stories either in favour of their political sponsors or write against rivals of their political sponsors . Many of them are ghost writers.

    The war against China is not going to be one that one — being fought by our armed forces only. It is and has to be multidimensional . It has to be on economic front,. We need to produce at home what we lazily have been importing from China. It has to be on digital front where there is not much backwardness in our talent , knowledge , experience and resources. All that needed is— a clear understanding that China will never allow India to rise to level ,where , it ,– not to speak of surpassing , even it matches the level of growth equal to that of China.

    • The answer lies in that ‘The Print’ is a Congress mouthpiece and paid and have no journalist with any credit.

  12. Some other things that need attention along with this:
    – Harmony OS should be categorically banned and should not be allowed to launch in India
    – AliExpress shopping app, similar to Club Factory, Romwe and Shein
    – bloatware that comes pre-installed with the OS in Xiaomi, RealMe, Oppo, Vivo and OnePlus phones. They should be forced to use stock android. The bloatware is a serious security risk and cannot even be disabled without rooting the phone.

  13. Surely Modi ji need to do more for the safety and security of India. May be we can expect/hope some more good steps in coming days.

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