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

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

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

He said the decision had been taken after a security review found that “in light of the threat to the UK and the increasing capability and connectivity of these systems, additional controls are required”.

The move comes just over a week after Rishi Sunak, prime minister, said China posed a “systemic challenge” to the UK and called it “undoubtedly the biggest state-based threat to our economic security”.

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

China’s National Intelligence Law, enacted in 2017, compels citizens and organisations to “support, assist, and co-operate” state intelligence work. Although it does not explicitly cover data kept outside of China and no cases involving foreign nationals have so far come to light, the law also forbids discussing specific incidents.

Samm Sacks, senior fellow at Yale Law School, said the decision reflected “growing concern from governments around the world of Chinese companies handling their data to Beijing” because of the lack of a “meaningful backstop between companies and security services”.

“In practice, Chinese companies do push back on government and security services over their access to data, which we don’t hear about publicly, since the companies don’t want to be seen to be resisting their own government,” she added.

Hikvision said it was “categorically false” to represent the company as a threat to national security. “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,” it said. “We will seek to urgently engage further with ministers to understand this decision.”

China’s video surveillance providers lead the global market, but officials from various countries have in recent years imposed restrictions on them, for reasons ranging from security fears to alleged human rights abuses.

In 2019, the US placed multiple Chinese artificial-intelligence surveillance companies, including video-camera makers Hikvision and Dahua, on its trade blacklist.

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

In response, China’s foreign ministry said the US had been “fiercely slandering and smearing China over Xinjiang in an attempt to create an excuse to interfere in China’s internal affairs”.

The European parliament last year removed the Hikvision thermal cameras it was using to…

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