Whitehall ordered to STOP installing Chinese-made security cameras

Government departments ordered to STOP installing new Chinese-made security cameras and disconnect those already in use from their main computer systems over cyber ‘security risks’ linked to Beijing regime

  • Order applies to systems made by firms subject to China’s national security law 
  • Months of concern in Westminster about the use of Chinese-made equipment
  • MPs previously called for prohibition of equipment manufactured by Hikvision

Government departments have been ordered to stop installing surveillance cameras made by Chinese firms on ‘sensitive sites’ due to security concerns.

Oliver Dowden, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, made the decision today after months of concern in Westminster about the use of Chinese-made equipment.

The order, revealed in a written statement to MPs, applies to ‘visual surveillance systems’ made by firms subject to China’s national security law, which requires companies to co-operate with Beijing’s security services.

Whitehall ministries have been told existing equipment should not be connected to departmental core networks and consideration should be given to removing it entirely. 

The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has previously called for the prohibition of equipment manufactured by Hikvision and other companies said to have had their cameras deployed in internment camps in China’s Xinjiang province.

It was reported Hikvision cameras were used inside the Department of Health and Social Care, where security concerns were raised over leaked CCTV showing then-health secretary Matt Hancock kissing an aide.

Alicia Kearns, chairwoman of the China Research Group of Tory MPs, said: ‘Companies like Hikvision and Dahua are part of an ecosystem of Chinese ”smart city” technologies that present a national security risk.

‘Chinese tech companies may swear that UK citizen data stays in the UK – but we know that when the CCP asks them to jump, they are legally bound to respond ”How high?”’ 

The order, revealed in a written statement to MPs, applies to ‘visual surveillance systems’ made by firms subject to China’s national security law, which requires companies to co-operate with Beijing’s security services.

Oliver Dowden, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, made the decision today after months of concern in Westminster about the use of Chinese-made equipment.

Alicia Kearns, chairwoman of the China Research Group of Tory MPs, said: ‘Chinese tech companies may swear that UK citizen data stays in the UK – but we know that when the CCP asks them to jump, they are legally bound to respond ”How high?”’

The move follows concerns raised by MPs and a surveillance watchdog.

In June, the biometrics and surveillance camera commissioner Fraser Sampson said: ‘Almost every aspect of our lives is now under surveillance using advanced systems designed by, and purchased from, companies under the control of other governments, governments to whom those companies have data sharing obligations within their own domestic legal framework.’

The public surveillance infrastructure was built on ‘digital asbestos’, Mr Sampson warned, ‘requiring both considerable caution when handling the products installed by a previous generation and, as a priority, a moratorium on any further installation until we fully understand the risks we have created’.

Mr Dowden told MPs: ‘The Government Security Group has undertaken a review of the current and future possible security risks associated with the installation of visual surveillance systems on the government estate.

‘The review has concluded that, in light of the threat to the UK and the increasing capability and connectivity of these systems, additional controls are required.

‘Departments have therefore been instructed to cease deployment of such equipment on to sensitive sites, where it is produced by companies subject to the national intelligence law of the People’s Republic of China.

‘Since security considerations are always paramount around these sites, we are taking action now to prevent any security risks materialising.’

Mr Dowden said ‘no such equipment should be connected to departmental core networks’ and ministries should consider whether they should immediately remove and replace such equipment from sensitive sites, rather than wait for scheduled upgrades.

Officials have also been urged to consider whether the same ‘risk mitigation’ should be extended to locations that are not designated ‘sensitive’.

Big Brother Watch’s legal and policy officer, Madeleine Stone, said: ‘The government’s decision to end the deployment of Hikvision and Dahua surveillance equipment is an important first step but the protection afforded to ministers and civil servants must be expanded to all of us. Our research has found that Chinese state-owned CCTV is used by over 60 per cent of public bodies.

‘Now the government has acknowledged the risk these companies pose to national security, they should protect the public at large and ban Hikvision and Dahua from operating anywhere in the UK.

‘It is unacceptable that companies that pose a real risk to security and rights are allowed to operate on the streets of Britain.’

But a Hikvision spokeswoman said: ‘It is categorically false to represent Hikvision as a threat to national security. No respected technical institution or assessment has come to this conclusion. 

‘Hikvision cannot transmit data from end-users to third parties, we do not manage end-user databases, nor do we sell cloud storage in the UK.

‘Our cameras are compliant with the applicable UK rules and regulations and are subject to strict security requirements. We have always been fully transparent about our operations in the UK and have been engaging with the UK Government to clarify misunderstandings about the company, our business, and address their concerns. We will seek to urgently engage further with ministers to understand this decision.’

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