‘Digital asbestos’: UK government departments are rolling back on contracts with Hikvision
Campaigners are increasing the pressure for the UK government to take action on Chinese state-affiliated surveillance equipment suppliers such as Hikvision and Dahua. Certain government departments have begun to roll back from their agreements with the Chinese firms, according to reporting by Channel 4 News.
The news item reports that estimates indicate there are more than a million Hikvision cameras installed in the UK, many in public places, put up by public authorities. The Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner, Fraser Sampson, describes them as “digital asbestos.”
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has removed Hikvision cameras from its building and the Department for Health and Social Care is cancelling its contract with the firm. Hikvision has written to the Cabinet Office and Home Office requesting meetings. The departments said only that meetings had been requested – and declined.
This follows on from a parliamentary briefing event on Chinese surveillance in the UK arranged by Big Brother Watch, an anti-surveillance campaign group, and a cross-party group of nearly 70 parliamentarians writing to the government calling for a ban on the sale and operation of CCTV brands linked to human rights abuses in China.
The UK’s College of Policing installed 59 Hikvision cameras last year. It has stated these are on a separate system, not the police network.
Hikvision is called a “moral polluter” due to its technology being trained on detecting ethnicities such as Uyghurs in Xinjiang, according to Channel 4, which reported that it also makes something the firm calls a “complete interrogation system.” Also dubbed the “Tiger chair,” the restraining chair is linked to a biometric monitoring system measuring every twitch of the body of the person being interrogated while a camera monitors the face to detect stress and determine a suspicion rating. Hikvision denied having ever sold such a device to Chinese police.
Channel 4 reported, quoting Omdia, that in 2020 Hikvision had a 31.4 percent share of the world network camera market, selling 36.7m cameras. One-hundred and forty cameras at a Rome airport started connecting to a server in China last year according to ‘Report’ by Ria. Hikvision said the reason was “outdated codes.”
“What we need is practical, ethical leadership,” said Fraser Sampson, who is not calling for a ban, but increased transparency.
In an event for Big Brother Watch supporters, Sampson called for a full review of the extent of Chinese surveillance installations and police use. He said Hikvision had sent letters to UK camera users telling them not to be concerned about what parliament may say on the issue. He himself is still waiting for a reply from his enquiries to the firm.
“You have to be able to trust your surveillance partner,” said Sampson in the online event. He is calling for ways to build trust with surveillance equipment manufacturers, all of which are in the private sector.