British politicians are sounding the alarm over Chinese CCTV providers

Dozens of MPs and peers from across the political spectrum have called on Boris Johnson to ban, on ethical grounds, the sale and use of surveillance equipment in the UK from two Chinese companies, Hikvision and Dahua.

The 67 signatories range from right-wing Tory MPs Steve Baker and David Davis, to Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, to left-leaning members including former shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Green MP Caroline Lucas.

Both Hikvision and Dahua have been blacklisted by the United States for Beijing’s use of their equipment in the crackdown on Uyghur Muslims in China.

In July last year, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee released a report calling for a nationwide ban on equipment from the two companies.

“Cameras made by Chinese company Hikvision have been deployed throughout Xinjiang and provide the main camera technology used in internment camps,” the report said.

There is no evidence yet that the Chinese state uses these companies to collect data overseas. The companies do not operate the cameras sold in the UK.

Research by campaign group Big Brother Watch, which coordinated Monday’s petition, suggests that many schools and councils across the UK use company-made CCTV cameras.

Freedom of Information requests from the group established that 73% of UK councils use CCTV cameras made by the two companies, along with 57% of secondary schools and 60% of NHS trusts. The group also established that several ministries use Hikvision cameras.

This is despite the Cabinet Office’s formal advice that UK businesses should “consider the ethical implications of engaging with China on emerging technologies”, given concerns over Beijing’s use of facial recognition and predictive computer algorithms for mass surveillance.

Davis, a former Brexit secretary, said he had long campaigned against the “worrying creep” of the surveillance state.

“The United States has already blacklisted companies. We must be in tune with our international partners and should also seek to ban invasive and oppressive technologies from these companies,” he said.

The FT reported last year that British intelligence agencies were growing concerned about the use of Chinese technology by the councils, fearing that Beijing could use the images for espionage, surveillance or collection of sensitive data.

British authorities have become more suspicious of Chinese technology in recent years, banning the use of the Huawei kit in new 5G telecommunications networks.

Fraser Sampson, Britain’s biometrics and surveillance camera commissioner, said on Monday that people needed to be able to trust their surveillance partners.

“It means acknowledgment and acceptance of responsibility for actions, decisions and their consequences and a willingness to engage in public scrutiny. Hikvision and Dahua didn’t come close to that expectation in my opinion,” Sampson said.

“We are now at a time when most people would agree there is a duty to act.”

The 67 politicians on Monday called for a ban on the sale and operation of surveillance equipment in the UK by Hikvision and Dahua, as well as a wider national review of the use of CCTV across the country.

Big Brother Watch is trying to persuade the government to agree to an amendment to a public procurement bill submitted to parliament this month that would block suppliers over human rights concerns.

“It is horrifying that the companies that provide the technological infrastructure for Beijing’s crimes against humanity supply cameras to 61% of public bodies in the UK,” said Jake Hurfurt, head of research at BBW.

A Hikvision spokesman said he was “proud” of the way he had worked with government agencies to fight crime and terrorism.

“The UK also has fringe groups who would like to see a massive reduction in CCTV in the UK, who are ready to launch allegations about CCTV and who would lie to demonize Hikvision.”

Dahua has previously stated that it follows all applicable local, national and international laws and will never develop solutions targeting a specific ethnic group.

The Chinese government maintains that its activities in Xinjiang are “counter-terrorism” measures and that its mass internment facilities are for “re-education”.

Comments are closed.