The Chinese companies building Iran’s surveillance state
With protests mounting, officials turn to Beijing-backed tech companies that use local subsidiaries to sell a dystopian future
As protests over the killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini by the Islamic Republic’s morality police rack the country, Iran’s policymakers are considering replacing the unpopular police grouping with surveillance equipment. Such technologies, produced in China, are capable of picking individuals out of crowds, even at night, and can be used by the regime to build cases against protesters or women who break the dress code.
Iran has hosted at least eight internationally sanctioned Chinese companies that sell technology used to spy on citizens for the past 19 years, according to public records. As early as 2003, Chinese purveyors of sophisticated surveillance technologies founded companies and obtained licenses to trade in Iran, documents from the official business registry Rooznameh Rasmi show.
Tehran Bureau has uncovered six companies that sold face recognition technology, video surveillance, crowd surveillance, and phone call and text message monitoring to Iranian state security forces. Beyond one-off technology sales, these companies are training the Iranian government to adopt the Chinese government’s concept of “safe cities,” where millions of citizens live under constant surveillance and risk having their freedom of movement restricted by losing “social credits” for minor acts of civil disobedience. Many of these companies have been targeted by international sanctions for enabling mass surveillance and contributing to ethnic cleansing and widespread human rights abuses in China. They remain active in Iran.
1. Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co., Ltd.
Hikvision has been active in Iran since 1387 (2008), according to a Rooznameh Rasmi registration document, and was active through the year 1400 (2021).