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Police use of Chinese cameras criticised

Published on 2023-06-04 15:52:03 source:NBC News

Police use of cameras made by Chinese firms should be at least as concerning a security issue as alleged Chinese spy balloons, a watchdog head has said.

Forces were using kit despite acknowledging "security and ethical concerns" about suppliers, UK Camera Commissioner Prof Fraser Sampson said.

He made the comments after a survey revealed the use of foreign surveillance equipment by the police.

It comes amid heightened focus on the use of Chinese tech in the UK.

"There has been a lot in the news in recent days about how concerned we should be about Chinese spy balloons 60,000ft up in the sky," said Prof Sampson.

"I do not understand why we are not at least as concerned about the Chinese cameras 6ft above our head in the street and elsewhere."

Last year UK government departments were told to stop installing surveillance cameras made by Chinese firms on "sensitive sites", because of security concerns.

The policy followed fears that firms could be required by Chinese law to co-operate with Beijing's security services.

Alicia Kearns, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, told the BBC the government should go further and remove all surveillance equipment made by firms backed by the Chinese government.

In the survey, sent out last June, the Office of the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner asked all 43 police forces in England and Wales, as well as the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the British Transport Police (BTP), the National Crime Agency, and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) about their use of surveillance technology.

Thirty-six forces responded, along with the BTP, CNC and MoD.

From the replies received, the survey found large amounts of equipment is being used about which there have been security or ethical concerns.

This affected:

The National Police Chiefs' Council told the BBC that safeguards are in place to allow the effective use of new technologies.

It added: "Following government guidance where governmental departments have been instructed to cease the deployment of such equipment around sensitive sites, UK policing will conduct necessary reviews to ensure national security standards are met."

MPs have also raised questions about the human rights records of two of the camera manufacturers cited by police in the survey, in particular concerns about reported links to alleged human rights abuses against Uyghurs - a mostly Muslim ethnic minority - in China.

In July 2021, the Foreign Affairs Committee issued a report which said: "Equipment manufactured by companies such as Hikvision and Dahua should not be permitted to operate within the UK."

A year later, 67 MPs and Lords joined a call for a ban on the firms.

Dahua has previously said that it follows "all applicable local, national and international laws, regulations and conventions" and has stated that it "has not and never will develop solutions targeting any specific ethnic group".

Hikvision told BBC News that: "It is categorically false to represent Hikvision as a threat to national security. No respected technical institution or assessment has come to this conclusion."

It also said that as a manufacturer, Hikvision does not store end-users' video data, and therefore cannot transmit data from end-users to third parties.

The firm said it took all reports regarding human rights very seriously.

"As a market leader, Hikvision is committed to upholding the highest standards and respect for human rights."

It also noted that it sold products to via distributors, and did not have contact with end-users.

The company said it welcomed any review of camera use by UK police.

City of London Police, Gloucestershire Police, Greater Manchester Police, Gwent Police, Merseyside Police, National Crime Agency (NCA), South Yorkshire Police and Thames Valley Police did not respond to the survey, which Prof Sampson called "disappointing".

The Home Office told the BBC that the security of public institutions and systems was of vital importance.

"The National Cyber Security Centre has produced new guidance to help the police, and other organisations, assess and gain confidence in their supply chain cyber-security," it said.

"We are committed to promoting the ethical development and deployment of technology in the UK and overseas. We are aware of a number of Chinese technology companies linked to violations taking place in Xinjiang and are monitoring the situation closely."

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