The UK’s government departments has been told to stop installing surveillance cameras made by Chinese companies and advised to replace existing ones, a Cabinet minister said on Thursday.
In a written statement to Parliament, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden, who oversees Cabinet Office policies, said the decision was made “in light of the threat to the UK and the increasing capability and connectivity of these systems.”
It comes after Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner Fraser Sampson warned the government against using cameras made by Chinese companies Hikvision and Dahua.
Dowden said a review by the Government Security Group concluded that additional controls are required for the installation of visual surveillance systems on the government estate.
“Departments have therefore been instructed to cease deployment of such equipment onto sensitive sites, where it is produced by companies subject to the National Intelligence Law of the People’s Republic of China,” the statement reads.
The decision effectively bans surveillance equipment from any Chinese manufacturers as the National Intelligence Law requires all organisations and citizens to “support, assist, and cooperate with national intelligence efforts.”
Dowden said the ban is to “prevent any security risks materialising” because security considerations are “always paramount around these sites.”
“Additionally, departments have been advised that no such equipment should be connected to departmental core networks and that they should consider whether they should remove and replace such equipment where it is deployed on sensitive sites rather than awaiting any scheduled upgrades,” he added.
Dowden said departments had also been advised to consider doing the same at non-sensitive sites and that the government will “take further steps if and when they become necessary.”
Sampson in April wrote to government ministers after The Telegraph reported that then-Health Secretary Sajid Javid had banned his department from buying Hikvision security cameras over “ethical concerns,” saying the decision “must apply equally across all government departments, devolved administrations, and local authorities.”
The commissioner warned the government again in June after civil liberty group Big Brother Watch published a report saying 60 percent of public bodies that responded to its survey said they were using cameras made by Hikvision and Dahua, two of the world’s top manufacturers of surveillance cameras that are ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.
Both companies have been blacklisted by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission for posing a threat to American national security.
In an interim report published earlier in November, Sampson said at least 11 British police forces were using Hikvision cameras while 26 forces were using drones from DJI, a Chinese company blacklisted by the Pentagon in October for being one of the “military companies.”
According to Conor Healy, director of government research at security and surveillance industry research group IPVM, there are “significant” risks using cameras made by Hikvision and Dahua, both having backdoors and vulnerabilities that can be used to access recordings, archives, and settings, and hack into connected secure networks.
Both firms are also known to supply surveillance equipment that has been used to target Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang region.
The companies previously denied being complicit in the human rights abuses in Xinjiang that a number of legislatures have called “genocide,” but Healy told The Epoch Times earlier in November that while other suppliers may be able to argue they don’t know how their products are being used, it’s “not at all an exaggeration to say that Hikvision and Dahua are themselves directly responsible for the extraordinary scale of what has happened in Xinjiang.”
Citing the testimony of a former internment camp detainee, Healy said camp guards could monitor “an entire floor in these concentration camps using custom built sophisticated Hikvision technology.”