UK limits use of Chinese-made surveillance systems on government sites

UK limits use of Chinese-made surveillance systems on government sites

The UK Cabinet Office has asked central government departments to stop installing Chinese-made surveillance systems at “sensitive sites”, citing security risks.

Announcing the ban on Thursday, Cabinet Minister Oliver Dowden said it would cover visual surveillance equipment “produced by companies subject to the National Intelligence Act of the People’s Republic of China”.

He said the decision was taken after a security review found that “given the threat to the UK and the increasing capacity and connectivity of these systems, additional checks are required. “.

The move comes just over a week after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said China posed a ‘systemic challenge’ to the UK and called it ‘arguably the greatest state threat to our security. economic”.

It also comes months after the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) decided to stop buying cameras from Hikvision, the world’s largest surveillance camera supplier. Before the ban took effect in April, a DHSC minister told parliament he was using 82 Hikvision products.

China’s National Intelligence Law, enacted in 2017, requires citizens and organizations to “support, assist and cooperate” with state intelligence work. While it does not explicitly cover data stored outside of China and no cases involving foreign nationals have come to light so far, the law also prohibits discussing specific incidents.

Samm Sacks, a senior fellow at Yale Law School, said the decision reflected “growing concern from governments around the world about Chinese companies processing their data with Beijing” due to the lack of a ” significant support between companies and security services”.

“In practice, Chinese companies push back against government and security services over their access to data, which we don’t hear about publicly, because the companies don’t want to be seen as resisting their own government,” he said. she adds.

Hikvision said it was “categorically wrong” to portray the company as a threat to national security. “Hikvision cannot pass end user data to third parties, we do not manage end user databases nor do we sell cloud storage in the UK,” a spokesperson said. “We will urgently seek further dialogue with ministers to understand this decision.”

Chinese CCTV providers dominate the global market, but officials in various countries have imposed restrictions on them in recent years, for reasons ranging from security fears to allegations of human rights abuses.

In 2019, the United States placed several Chinese AI surveillance companies, including video camera makers Hikvision and Dahua, on its trade blacklist.

Washington said at the time that the groups were aiding in the “repression, mass arbitrary detention and high-tech surveillance” of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China’s northwest region of Xinjiang.

In response, China’s Foreign Ministry said the United States had “violently slandered and slandered China over Xinjiang in an attempt to create an excuse to interfere in China’s internal affairs.”

Last year, the European Parliament withdrew the Hikvision thermal cameras it used to monitor visitors’ fever, after members objected to the company’s role in allegedly aiding Beijing for rights abuses of humans in Xinjiang.

Hikvision said it does not supervise the use of its devices once they are installed. The company commissioned its own report which concluded that it had not participated in its five security projects in Xinjiang “with the intent to knowingly engage in human rights abuses”.

This year, a broad coalition of 67 members of the British Parliament called for a ban on all sales of Dahua and Hikvision equipment in the UK on ethical grounds, citing the companies’ involvement in Xinjiang.

Alicia Kearns, Tory chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, backed Dowden’s ban but called for it to be extended to cover all public bodies and local authority purchases from related businesses in Xinjiang.

Dowden told departments that Chinese equipment should not be connected to their “core networks.” He also asked departments to consider removing existing equipment and expanding the ban to include sites not designated as “sensitive”.

Kearns also urged the government to provide departments with alternative methods of purchasing equipment. “Any ban should be supported by a new national procurement framework that provides alternatives to Chinese state-backed technology,” she said.

DHSC and Dahua did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Cabinet Office said it had nothing to add to Dowden’s statement.

Additional reporting by Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe

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