UK surveillance watchdog issues warning over Chinese cameras

Cool yet scathing – typically British. That’s how a new report from the United Kingdom government’s independent watchdog on surveillance, warning the country’s police over their reliance on Chinese-made cameras, reads.

Fraser Sampson, Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner, said in his annual report that most police forces in England and Wales still use camera equipment that is either made in China or contains Chinese components.

This is leaving the police open to spying by Beijing, Sampson warned. Moreover, the use of such equipment poses ethical concerns since some of the Chinese-made cameras are helping the Chinese government monitor notorious detainment camps for Uyghurs in Xinjiang province.

“There are major security concerns with a lot of these cameras, both in terms of the technology they contain and what happens to the data that comes from them. If you buy a system like this, you have to be able to trust the company you are buying from,” Sampson said.

He specifically mentioned several Chinese companies directly involved in Beijing’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims – these are Hikvision, Dahua, and Huawei.

Sampson’s office asked all 43 police forces in England and Wales about the technology they use in drones, helicopters, body cameras, traffic cameras, and other types of surveillance equipment.

Most of those – 39 – responded. Twenty-four departments said they used CCTV cameras within their buildings made by one of five companies that are either Chinese or, as the commissioner’s office believes, use multiple Chinese parts.

Eighteen forces said they used equipment made by those companies in external CCTV systems, while 11 said they did so for number plate recognition cameras.

Of the five companies, three are Chinese, one Taiwanese, and one American. The Chinese firms are Hikvision, Dahua and Huawei. Under Chinese law, companies must “support, assist and co-operate” with state intelligence work.

Sampson’s report also highlights a particular risk that systems could download automatic software upgrades enabling them to carry out surveillance that was not advertised as a capability. For instance, CCTV cameras could easily be upgraded remotely to be able to read vehicle registration plates.

“Chinese companies can easily deliver system upgrades to such cameras, which would allow them to record the video or audio and download them to Chinese servers,” Sampson said.

In November 2022, the UK banned Chinese cameras on government sites, citing security risks. However, Hikvision, the world’s largest maker of surveillance equipment, is the biggest supplier of such cameras to British police.

The US is far more restrictive. Last year, the Biden administration banned approvals of new telecommunications equipment from Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese company, because they pose "an unacceptable risk" to US national security.

The disclosure comes as the US is embroiled in a diplomatic row with China over apparent aerial spying balloons and other devices that the Americans have shot down. The Chinese foreign ministry says the US also flies balloons over China.

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Esentia Systems
prefix 10 months ago
This blog post raises an important concern regarding the use of Chinese cameras in UK surveillance. With the warning from the surveillance watchdog, it's evident that ensuring the security and privacy of sensitive areas is paramount. It's crucial for businesses and authorities to be aware of potential risks and opt for trusted, reliable alternatives to protect critical infrastructure and data. Thank you for shedding light on this issue and emphasizing the need for secure surveillance solutions!
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