Security cameras made by Chinese firm Hikvision can no longer be installed in or on government buildings after Cabinet Minister Oliver Dowden declared them “possible current and future security risks”. It follows calls for a nationwide ban by a group of MPs and peers, but does not go far enough, according to the outgoing UK Biometrics and CCTV Commissioner.
Hikvision is part-owned by the Chinese government and is the world’s largest CCTV provider, serving schools, public institutions and secret labs in the UK. It supplies up to 60% of UK public bodies with CCTV cameras, according to a report by Big Brother Watch, which found that cameras from Hikvision and Dahua, another manufacturer partly owned by the Chinese government, were used by 73 % of local authorities, 35% of police forces and 63% of schools in the UK.
There have been growing calls for their use to be banned, particularly in sensitive and high-security areas, in part due to Hikvision’s alleged role in aiding Chinese oppression in the Xinjiang province and Tibet. The Big Brother Watch report alleged that Hikvision and Dahua participated in China’s oppression of the Uighur community in Xinjiang.
The UK government’s new decision includes a ban on the future installation of any security cameras made by companies subject to Chinese security laws and came after a review of the security risks associated with surveillance systems on government property.
“The review concluded that, given the threat to the UK and the growing capacity and connectivity of these systems, additional controls are needed,” Dowden wrote in a statement to parliament.
It is believed that over a million of these cameras are on buildings across the UK, including government and public property, monitoring all aspects of our lives.
Professor Fraser Sampson, the outgoing UK biometrics and surveillance camera commissioner, said Technology Monitor banning cameras from government buildings is “the easy part”, and now the hard work begins. “We need a risk-based timeline to fix all the issues, some of which can be fixed now, but others take years,” says Professor Sampson. “We no longer ask whether certain security companies can be trusted, we now accept that they cannot, but we need to figure out how to verify those we can trust.”
Professor Sampson asks: “Do you want rogue companies vetted at airports, surveilling school playgrounds or on hospital wards?” He gave the example of one such company which has won awards for its work monitoring children on school buses in Scotland and is now on the new ban list.
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Hikvision cameras: an international problem
Beyond schools, the issue of policing was raised by Professor Sampson. It has been a thorny issue in recent months, with guidance for officers using CCTV due to be scrapped under new UK data laws. He said: “Policing is a matter of trust. Once you lose trust in a company, as we have said is the case with Chinese CCTV companies, there is no has more room for them in a policing role. In this case now, we’ve established that some companies are not trustworthy, we shouldn’t use them either.”
He adds that the problem extends to all areas of public life covered by these cameras. “It’s not a police problem, it’s a democratic and international problem,” he said.
The directive issued by Dowden also includes advice for departments to disconnect cameras from central computer networks and urges them to remove them altogether where possible.
Some departments have already taken steps to remove the cameras before the review is complete. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) removed Hikvision from its building and the Department of Health and Social Care canceled its contract with the company.
A group of 67 MPs and Lords have called for a nationwide ban on the installation of Hikvision technology, going further than banning government buildings. The group calling for a ban includes Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey, four former Tory ministers, Labor MPs and human rights campaigners, and Green MP Caroline Lucas.
“We call for a ban on the sale and operation of Hikvision and Dahua surveillance equipment in the UK and condemn their involvement in technology-driven human rights abuses in China,” the group said. in a press release.
The deputies raised privacy and security issues, which Hikvision denied in a statement to Reuters. He said he would seek to engage the government to better understand the ban, adding that: “Hikvision cannot pass end-user data to third parties, we do not maintain end-user databases and nor do we sell cloud storage in the UK. “
Dowden said the departments must cease further deployment to sensitive sites where it is “produced by companies subject to the National Intelligence Law of the People’s Republic of China.” He added that “since security considerations are always paramount around these sites, we are taking action now to prevent any security risks from materializing.”
Read more: MPs call on UK to ban Chinese surveillance cameras used by 73% of local councils
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