Hikvision denies it poses a national security threat after UK government bans Chinese CCTV at ‘sensitive’ locations
The British government has instructed government departments and locations to halt the deployment of any Chinese CCTV equipment.
The decision to ban the use of CCTV camera from the likes of Hikvision and Dahua, was revealed in a statement to Parliament by Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden.
It should be remembered that back in May this year, the government’s own surveillance camera commissioner, Professor Fraser Sampson, had issued a warning about Chinese-made CCTV cameras, commonly found on British streets.
Professor Fraser Sampson said at the time he was becoming increasingly concerned about the security risks posted by “state-controlled surveillance systems covering our public spaces.”
Indeed, such was his concern, that Professor Sampson warned public sector bodies and local authorities against buying CCTV equipment from Chinese firms including market leader Hikvision.
Now on Thursday it seems that the UK government is acting on this advice, and has decided to ban the use of Chinese CCTV systems at ‘sensitive’ locations’.
“The Government keeps the security of our personnel, information, assets, and estate under constant review,” wrote Dowden. “In this context, the Government Security Group has undertaken a review of the current and future possible security risks associated with the installation of visual surveillance systems on the government estate.”
“The review has concluded that, in light of the threat to the UK and the increasing capability and connectivity of these systems, additional controls are required,” said Dowden. “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.”
“Since security considerations are always paramount around these sites, we are taking action now to prevent any security risks materialising,” said Dowden. “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 said that government departments have also been advised to consider whether there are sites outside the definition of sensitive sites to which they would wish to extend the same risk mitigation.
The British restriction essentially prevent government departments from installing technology that is produced by companies subject to China’s National Intelligence Law, which requires Chinese citizens and organisations to co-operate with the country’s intelligence and security services.
In a statement to CNN Business on Friday, Hikvision said it was “categorically false to represent Hikvision as a threat to national security.”
The company reportedly said it was hoping to engage with UK officials “urgently” to understand the decision, and had previously spoken with the UK government to clear up what it saw as misunderstandings about its business.
“Hikvision is an equipment manufacturer that has no visibility into end users’ video data,” the Hangzhou-based company said. “Hikvision cannot access end users’ video data and 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 should be noted that Chinese officials for decades have also had their own national security concerns about Western technology, and they routinely ban Western tech in sensitive locations.
Chinese officials in March 2021 banned Tesla cars from entering Chinese military complexes and sensitive industrial or government facilities, due to concerns over the data collection capabilities of the cars with their cameras and sensors.
Elon Musk at the time denied the company’s electric cars could be used to leak information from China.
Hikvision makes surveillance cameras (CCTV) and is widely used around the world by both businesses and consumers for their surveillance needs.
Indeed, according to Top10VPN, more than 1,000 cities have Hikvision cameras installed, with top markets being the US, UK, Brazil, Mexico and Vietnam.
Meanwhile civil liberties group Big Brother Watch in February this year published a report, which revealed that two thirds of UK public bodies that responded to, admitted using Chinese-made CCTV systems.
Hikvision has been on the United States Entity List since 2019, alongside other Chinese firms, prohibiting them from importing US technology.
In May the Biden administration said it was targetting Hikvision with potential sanctions for ‘enabling’ human rights abuses, as it allegedly supplied the Chinese government with surveillance cameras that facilitate the repression of 1 million Uyghurs who have been detained in camps in the north-western region of Xinjiang.
Hikvision was also the firm whose CCTV camera reportedly 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 has subsequently been removed. The suspect who leaked the footage has never been caught.
In July a cross-party group of MPs and Lords called for the government to ban the use of surveillance equipment by two Chinese firms in the UK over human rights concerns.
The group of 67 parliamentarians said they condemn the alleged “involvement in technology-enabled human rights abuses in China” by Chinese firms Hikvision and Dahua.