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UK removes Chinese surveillance cameras from sensitive government sites


The UK Cabinet Office will direct central government departments to remove all surveillance equipment from Chinese companies, including Dahua and Hikvision, from sensitive locations in an effort to limit potential intelligence gathering by Beijing.

Announcing the decision on Tuesday, the cabinet said the government “commits to publishing 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 to Hikvision and Dahua, the world’s largest makers of video surveillance equipment.

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

“These new measures will protect our sensitive sectors from companies that could threaten national security and provide a powerful deterrent to hostile actors seeking to harm Britain,” said Cabinet Minister Jeremy Quin, announcing the measures alongside a series of new amendments to the State Procurement Act.

Last November, the Cabinet Office ordered government departments to stop installing visual surveillance equipment made by companies subject to China’s National Intelligence Law, which forces organizations to “support, assist and cooperate” with state intelligence.

The new directive means that significant amounts of existing equipment will be removed from government property. At least a third of police forces in England and Wales use surveillance cameras, according to Hikvision research by Fraser Sampsonthe government’s independent commissioner for surveillance cameras.

While the average lifespan of a surveillance camera is seven years, the government’s timeline for removing the equipment is likely to be much sooner, 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 firm. “Instead, I see it as a further step toward the rising geopolitical tensions reflected in technology bans.”

Taylor added: “Now we say, look at the manufacturer’s flag, and that will tell you if the device is safe. That’s a ridiculous move because if you look at tech supply chains, you’re going to find China somewhere, so where do you stop?”

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

Hikvision and Dahua did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Hikvision has previously said it was “categorically false” to portray the company as a threat to national security and that it is unable to pass on data from its customers to third parties.

Dahua has previously said it has served UK customers for six years “in full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations” and that it “maintains extremely high cybersecurity standards”.

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

In 2019, the US banned Hikvision and Dahua, along with other Chinese artificial intelligence surveillance companies, from purchasing US products, alleging the groups aid in the surveillance and repression of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang.

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