UK’s surveillance camera commissioner warns government, public bodies, and local authorities, against buying Chinese-made CCTV cameras
The government’s surveillance camera commissioner, Professor Fraser Sampson, has issued a warning about Chinese-made CCTV cameras, commonly found on British streets.
The Daily Telegraph reported that Professor Sampson was becoming increasingly concerned about the security risks posted by “state-controlled surveillance systems covering our public spaces.”
Indeed, such is his concern, that Professor Sampson warned public sector bodies and local authorities against buying CCTV equipment from Chinese firms including Hikvision.
And last week the Biden administration said it was targetting Hikvision with potential sanctions for ‘enabling’ human rights abuses
Hikvision was also the firm that reportedly made the CCTV camera that captured Matt Hancock’s infamous embrace and kiss with an aide, that cost him his job as health secretary.
That CCTV camera in Hancock’s former office, now current health secretary Sajid Javid’s office has subsequently been removed. The suspect who leaked the footage has never been caught.
The Telegraph reported that in a letter to government ministers, Professor Sampson welcomed the decision by Sajid Javid to blacklist Hikvision. He said his reasoning “must apply equally across all government departments, devolved administrations and local authorities.”
Professor Sampson even reportedly suggested the Chinese could listen in on conservations in schools, using remotely operated secret microphones that are “increasingly difficult to detect.”
“In terms of security, public space surveillance is increasingly intrusive and modern surveillance cameras are built with the maximum functionality inside at the point of manufacture,” Professor Sampson was quoted by the Daily Telegraph as writing.
“This means they come with capabilities that be switched on remotely in the future as and when they are needed, for example the ability to pick up sound or read vehicle number plates.”
“The more that surveillance cameras can do, the more important it will be to reassure people about what those systems are not doing, whether that is in our street, our sports grounds, or our schools.”
“This is increasingly difficult to detect technically and requires transparency and due diligence by all concerned in the public space surveillance activity.
According to the Daily Telegraph, Professor Sampson had “repeatedly asked” Hikvision, which is part owned by the Chinese government, about its cameras being used in detention camps, amid forced labour allegations in China, as well as the detention of Uyghurs, but “they have yet to answer those questions.”
Professor Sampson has reportedly meet ministers and local government officials and written to police chiefs to highlight the issue.
Meanwhile civil liberties group Big Brother Watch in February published a report, which revealed that two thirds of public bodies that responded to, admitted using Chinese-made CCTV systems.
“Chinese surveillance giants, including Hikvision and Dahua, with their pile ’em high, sell ’em cheap business models, are now the dominant CCTV manufacturers in the West and their AI-powered cameras are fuelling a new age of algorithmic surveillance,” it said at the time.
It warned the CCTV cameras come with a “smorgasbord of high-tech monitoring tools from live facial recognition to face mask and fight detection for rock bottom prices.”
It found that 63 percent of schools and 73 percent of local authorities use Chinese-made CCTV, as well as more than half of NHS trusts and 312 percent of police forces.
Most are made by Hikvision, which is the largest CCTV manufacturer in the world, followed by Dahua, the second-largest.