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‘Hope’ in the UK that Chinese surveillance cameras will be ripped out of public networks

‘Hope’ in the UK that Chinese surveillance cameras will be ripped out of public networks

The China biometric surveillance story gets grimmer with every investigation, report and news story.

Angst is growing among some in Western governments about how deeply Chinese biometric surveillance systems are imbedded in their infrastructure. And new reporting on the mistreatment of religious minorities describes the most sophisticated and overbearing biometric dragnet yet envisioned.

Can governments take the financial hit and replace systems by, for example, China’s Hikvision? Can Hikvision and its Chinese competitors build genuine trust between themselves and their global buyers? And can Beijing’s autocratic leadership be persuaded to show tolerance and refocus its biometric networks on delivering needed services and legitimate public safety?

It is not looking good.

A memo from Fraser Sampson, the United Kingdom’s commissioner of biometrics and surveillance cameras, calls the numbers of Chinese products in the nation’s public surveillance infrastructure “digital asbestos.”

Apparently not everyone in leadership shares Sampson’s sense of urgency.

In the note, to Member of Parliament Iain Duncan Smith, Sampson says, “almost every aspect of our lives is now under surveillance,” which must have seemed like a good idea when it was only UK leaders watching anyone in the United Kingdom.

But it is a crisis if Chinese vendors operate overseas as they reportedly do at home – gather all data possible, analyze it and hand it over to the Communist Party committees in Beijing, he says. That is believed to be happening with a number of vendors, including Hikvision and Dahua.

The United States has targeted individual Chinese vendors in a largely political, rather than strategic, campaign. Companies have found themselves on black lists that should create financial pain, but does not always work.

New evidence

In a coincidence, surveillance industry trade publication IPVM (subscription required and recommended) has published its latest report on how facial recognition and other biometrics are employed to cow China’s minority Muslim population.

IPVM editors who have gotten access to Xinjiang police records say the department screens all 23 million residents of the area with facial recognition and license plate capture looking for evidence of radicalism, extremism and religiousness.

Reportedly, one sign of radicalism is traveling abroad. Hikvision cameras spot and detain members of the Uyghur community who have traveled abroad and returned, according to the publication. The report is dense with detail, and worth reading. Axios also has covered the story.

Thus, there is little confidence in the United Kingdom that Chinese manufacturers are operating professionally in the United Kingdom, according to Sampson. They have demonstrated an “absolute refusal to engage with even the most cursory level of public accountability.”

And yet, he expresses “hope” that comprehensive legislation on the situation will be forthcoming. He is advocating tighter bid regulations for future systems, “but also to reinforce the fidelity of our country’s critical surveillance infrastructure in its entirety.”

A complete inventory of all the publicly owned surveillance systems is needed, Sampson added.

That it is not a foregone conclusion one will be carried out is no doubt a concern for privacy advocates and military leaders.

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