The FCC just banned these Chinese cameras and telecom hardware from reaching the US

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Huawei, ZTE, Hikvision, Hytera and Dahua all sell telecommunications equipment and video surveillance technology in the United States, but many of their future security cameras and radio hardware will no longer be welcome. That has just been announced by the Federal Communications Commission it will no longer authorize some of their equipment – which is a big deal, because companies cannot legally import or sell anything with a radio in the US without that authorization.

But as I’ll explain, it’s not a blanket ban either. Clearly marked consumer products are likely to be exempt.

Weren’t these companies already banned? Not exactly. You probably remember how the Trump administration made Chinese telecom companies feel unwelcome by accusing companies like Huawei, ZTE and DJI of being national security threats and adding them to the Commerce Department’s “Entity List” . But while that had consequences, it didn’t really keep their products out of the United States. For example, you have had no trouble buying a DJI drone.

The entity list only goes so far

What the entity list does is save U.S businesses from exporting technology to that Chinese companies, not the other way around. For example, it could have affected the availability of Android updates on Huawei phones, as Android provider Google is a US company. And other government groups can get their clues from the entity list as well. Government agencies have one way it’s been harder to spend federal dollars to buy Chinese equipment for a while now.

“[O]If we have determined that equipment from certain manufacturers poses an unacceptable risk to national security, there is no point in allowing the exact same equipment to be purchased and placed in our communications networks as long as no federal dollars are involved.” reads part of a statement. from FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr.

And while the FCC has its own “covered list” of companies it considers a threat to national security – and ordered network operators to pull out and replace all of their Huawei and ZTE equipment at a likely cost of billions – the agency had not yet stopped companies from taking those import or sell products in the United States .

When Best Buy and Home Depot stopped selling Dahua and Hikvision security cameras, it wasn’t because the government told them to stop. Those stores simply did not want to be associated with reported human rights violations. You can still find both brands on Amazon.

But even Amazon won’t be able to legally sell newer products if the FCC doesn’t grant permission. Any radio frequency product imported into the United States for sale goes in the FCC OET database (which is one of the reasons eagle-eyed gadget enthusiasts can use it to unveil unannounced new products). If you’re not in that database, you won’t be able to import mass quantities of a product for sale.

Some Hikvision security cameras.
Image by FRED DUFOUR/AFP via Getty Images

But when it comes to Hytera, Hikvision and Dahua security cameras, they may need to mark their products more carefully to escape a ban. Technically, the FCC only denies approval for equipment designed “for public safety, security of government facilities, physical surveillance of critical infrastructure, and other national security purposes.”

“For these three companies, we will require them to document what precautions they will take for marketing or selling for these purposes,” reads part of a statement from FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel. “[W]e are putting a freeze on all their telecommunications and video surveillance equipment authorization applications until that work is done.

So if they agree to market the cameras to consumers or small businesses, they can probably be imported and sold just fine. Nor is it the case that the FCC is revoking authorizations for existing products.

The FCC isn’t just closing this loophole; it was ordered to do so by the Secure Equipment Act of 2021, which basically just says that the FCC will not review applications for authorization submitted by any company on that covered list. That means it will be a big problem if new companies join the list as well.

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