UK to strip Chinese surveillance cameras from sensitive government sites

The UK Cabinet Office will tell central government departments to remove all surveillance equipment made by Chinese companies including Dahua and Hikvision from sensitive sites in an attempt to limit potential intelligence-gathering by Beijing.

Announcing the decision on Tuesday, the Cabinet Office said the government was “committing to publish a timeline for the removal of surveillance equipment produced by companies subject to China’s National Intelligence Law from sensitive central government sites.”

Two people familiar with the government’s plan said the order was directed at Hikvision and Dahua, the world’s biggest makers of video surveillance equipment.

Ministers are expected to reassure hawkish Tory MPs that within six months of the bill becoming law, they will publish the promised timeline.

“These new measures will protect our sensitive sectors from companies which could threaten national security and are a firm deterrence to hostile actors who wish to do Britain harm,” said Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin, who announced the measures alongside a raft of new amendments to the government’s Procurement Bill.

Last November the Cabinet Office told government departments to stop installing visual surveillance equipment made by companies that were subject to China’s National Intelligence Law, which compels organisations to “support, assist and co-operate” with state intelligence work.

The new directive will mean stripping out substantial amounts of existing equipment from government estates. At least one-third of police forces in England and Wales use surveillance cameras made by Hikvision, according to research by Fraser Sampson, the government’s independent surveillance camera commissioner.

While the average lifespan of a surveillance camera is seven years, the government’s timeline for removing the equipment is likely to be much quicker, the two people said.

“There is a plausible but unproven security case for the ban,” said Emily Taylor, CEO of Oxford Information Labs, a cyber intelligence company. “Instead I see it as a further step up of the mounting geopolitical tensions that are being expressed through technology bans.”

Taylor added: “Now we are saying, look at the flag of the manufacturer, and that will tell you whether the device is secure. That is a ridiculous move, because if you look into any tech supply chains, you will find China somewhere, so where will you stop?”

The Cabinet Office also announced it would create a new unit to investigate “suppliers who may pose a risk to national security, and assess whether companies should be barred from public procurements”.

Hikvision and Dahua did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Hikvision has previously said it was “categorically false” to present the company as a national security threat, and that it does not have the ability to transmit data from its customers to third parties.

Dahua has previously said it had served British customers for six years “in full compliance with all applicable laws and rules” and that it “maintains extremely high cyber security standards”.

The British Security Industry Association estimates that there are around 21mn professional video surveillance cameras in use in the UK, with around 1 per cent of these, or 210,000, used in the public sector.

In 2019 the US banned Hikvision and Dahua, alongside other Chinese artificial-intelligence surveillance companies, from buying American products, alleging the groups were aiding the surveillance and repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang.

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