Government departments in the UK have been ordered to stop installing surveillance cameras manufactured by companies subject to China’s national security law, due to security concerns.
The UK government is moving more strongly against Chinese technology, as it bans the use of some “visual surveillance systems” on “sensitive” government sites.
The ban applies to security cameras and other systems made by Chinese companies that are required to cooperate with Beijing’s security services.
Officials have been told to ensure these systems are not connected to departmental core networks and to consider removing all existing equipment immediately, without waiting for scheduled upgrades.
They were also urged to consider whether ‘risk mitigation’ itself should be extended to places not designated as ‘sensitive’.
The UK’s reticence towards Chinese technology is framed in a long-standing technology dispute between Washington and Beijing, in which the latter has been accused of using technology to increase its global influence.
The move also follows growing concerns from MPs about Westminster’s technology vulnerabilities. Earlier this month, UK security minister Tom Tugendhat warned that UK democracy was “under attack” after MPs were warned their mobile phones could be used to harvest sensitive information. .
In a written statement, Oliver Dowden, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, told MPs that a review “has concluded that, in light of the threat to the UK and the growing capacity and connectivity of these systems, further scrutiny is needed.” .
Dowden added, “Departments have therefore been instructed to cease deploying such equipment at sensitive sites, where it is manufactured by companies subject to the National Intelligence Law of the People’s Republic of China.
“Since security considerations are always paramount at these sites, we’re taking steps now to prevent any security risks from materializing.”
According to campaign group Big Brother Watch, many public organizations in Britain use CCTV cameras made by Hikvision or Dahua.
In July this year, a group of 67 MPs and lords urged London to ban the sale and use of surveillance equipment made by the two companies, which would have facilitated the crackdown on one million Uyghurs in China.
In a cover letter from Fraser Sampson, the Biometrics and Surveillance Cameras Commissioner warned that the UK’s public surveillance infrastructure was being built on “digital asbestos”.
“Nearly every aspect of our lives is now under surveillance using advanced systems designed and procured by companies under the control of other governments, governments to which those companies have data sharing obligations within their national legal framework,” he said. said Samson.
Alicia Kearns, chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and the China Research Group of MPs, welcomed the move but said it should go further.
“Public agencies and local authorities should not source from surveillance companies, such as Hikvision, which have consistently failed to clarify their complicity in the CCP-orchestrated human rights abuses against the Uyghur people and other minorities in Xinjiang,” he said.
“Any ban should also be supported by a new national procurement framework that provides alternatives to Chinese state-backed technology that could be forced to transfer large amounts of UK citizens’ data into the hands of the CCP.”
Some individual UK ministries had already removed Hikvision equipment, after footage from one of the company’s cameras showing then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock kissing a parliamentary assistant, in clear breach of Covid-19 rules , had been leaked to the public. Hancock was forced to resign soon after.
In response to Dowden’s statement, a Hikvision spokesperson said it was “categorically untrue to portray Hikvision as a threat to national security.”
“No respected technical institution or evaluation has come to this conclusion,” he added.
“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. Our cameras comply with applicable UK rules and regulations and are subject to strict safety requirements.
“We have always been fully transparent about our UK operations and have engaged with the UK Government to clear up misconceptions about the company, our business and address their concerns. We will urgently seek further engagement with ministers to understand this decision.”
The move comes amid growing concerns about the dangers of cybersecurity attacks against public entities by state-sponsored actors.
Earlier this month, two new reports found that cyberattacks by criminals and state-sponsored groups have increased significantly over the past financial year, turning cyberspace into the “domain of warfare.”
In a RUSI Security Lecture, the head of GCHQ, Sir Jeremy Fleming, said the Chinese government has used advanced technologies as a “tool to gain advantage through control of its own markets, those within its sphere of influence and its own citizens ”. .
The UK government also recently blocked the sale of British chip maker Newport Water Fab to a Chinese-owned company over national security concerns.
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