MPs call for ban on Chinese surveillance camera technology

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A cross-party group of MPs has called on the government to ban the sale and operation of  CCTV surveillance cameras linked to human rights abuses in China.

Surveillance cameras supplied by the Chinese manufacturers, Hikvision and Dahua are widely used in state “re-education” camps which have been accused of subjecting Uyghur Muslims to forced labour and torture.

The cameras have been banned in the US but are widely used in the UK across government departments and companies.

Some 67 parliamentarians condemned Hikvision and Dahua’s involvement in enabling human rights abuses and called for a ban of the technology being sold or used in the UK.

A statement calling for the ban has been signed by former conservative ministers, including the Brexit ministers Steve Baker and David Davis MP, Damien Green MP and Lord Bethel.

Labour human rights advocates Baroness Sharmi Chakrabarti, and Baroness Helena Kennedy, Lib Dem leader, Ed Davey, Green MP Caroline Lucas and the SNP’s Alyn Smith, have also supported the ban.

Call for ban

“We call for a ban on the sale and operation of Hikvision and Dahua surveillance equipment in the UK and condemn their involvement in technology-enabled human rights abuses in China,” the MPs said in a statement.

They also call on the Government to commission an independent national review of the scale, capabilities, ethics and human rights impact of modern CCTV in the UK.

David Davis MP said that it was “shocking” how many UK companies were relying on technology from Chinese state-owned companies.

“This technology comes equipped with advanced surveillance capabilities such as facial recognition, person tracking and gender identification. These pose a significant threat to civil liberties in our countries,” he said.

“These companies, Hikvision and Dahua, are Chinese state-owned companies, raising urgent questions over whether they also pose a threat to national security,” he added.

The MPs’s call to action follows research by the campaign group Big Brother Watch that found the cameras have been widely deployed by government bodies including councils, secondary schools, NHS trusts, universities and police forces in the UK

Freedom of information requests by sent out by the campaign group Big Brother Watch found that 800 out of 1300 public bodies that responded are using cameras from the two manufacturers.

Dozens of public bodies have AI-equipped cameras supplied by the Chinese manufacturers, capable of facial detection, gender recognition, identifying fights or whether someone is wearing a face mask. It is not clear whether these capabilities have been deployed in the UK.

The campaign group says the Chinese companies supply rebranded cameras which as sold under other names, including Honeywell and Toshima, so that the true number of Hikvision and Dahua cameras used in the UK public sector may be significantly higher.

Hikvision cameras have been found in some branches of Tesco, Starbucks, Burger King, Dominos Pizza, Costa Coffee and MacDonald’s. Cameras supplied by Dahua have been identified at the retailer Pets Corner.

The US Federal Communications Commission effectively banned Hikvision and Dahua from use by US government bodies in March 2021, citing security reasons, in a move that won backing from both houses of Congress.

In July 2021, the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee urged the government  to ban the operation of equipment provided by Hikvision and Dahua in the UK.

“The Government should prohibit UK firms and public sector bodies from conducting business with, investing in, or entering into partnerships with such Chinese firms, to ensure that UK companies do not provide either blueprints or financing for further technology-enabled human rights abuse,” the committee wrote in a 40 page report.

Human Rights abuses

Hikvision and Dahua, have won contracts worth £990 million to provide surveillance systems in the Xinjiang province, including re-education camps where an estimated one million Uyghurs are detained and subject to abuse, torture and forced sterilisation.

Hikvision and Dahau have previously been found to offer ethnicity profiling tools on their CCTV cameras used in Xinjiang.

The Uyghur muslims of the region are  described by Amnesty International as “among the most heavily surveilled populations in the world”

According to the human rights group there have been reports of physical abuse, beatings solitary confinement and electrical shocks being used against Uyghars in Xinjiang priso

Accounts obtained by Amnesty International of inmates being placed into stress positions, the unlawful use of restraints, sleep deprivation, being hung from a wall, being subjected to extremely cold temperatures, and solitary confinement.

Security Vulnerabilities

Security experts have identified a number of security vulnerabilities in Hikvision and Dahua products that could put privacy at risk.

Reports from Italy found a flaw in a Hikvision system led to cameras attempting to connect to servers in China.

Further security holes were found this month when one of Hikvision’s remote viewing software tools was found to connect directly to services in China. Hikvision blamed the flaws on outdated software.

Duty to act

Fraser Sampson, the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner, said that emergency services and local authorities must be able to trust companies they work with on surveillance.

“That means acknowledgement of, and assumption of responsibility for, actions, decisions, and their consequences and a willingness to engage in public scrutiny. Hikvision and Dahua have not come close to this expectation in my view,” he said.

“We’re now at a moment where most people would agree there’s a duty to act,” he added.

Baroness Shami Chakrabarti said that UK taxpayers should not invest in Chinese technology that is used to facilitate abuse in China.

“We mustn’t support abuses over there or replicate a China-style surveillance state over here. We need an urgent and fully independent review of surveillance in modern Britain,” she said.

Jake Hurfurt, Head of Research and Investigations at Big Brother Watch, said that Chinese state-owned CCTV has no place watching Britain’s streets.

“Hikvision and Dahua are closely linked to the genocide in Xinjiang and their low-cost, high-tech cameras are normalising intrusive surveillance in the UK,” he said.

“We urge the Prime Minister to follow the US example and urgently ban Hikvision and Dahua from operating in the UK,” he said.

Computer Weekly has contacted Hikvision and Dahua for comment.

 



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