The UK has decided to the carry out removal of China made surveillance cameras from sensitive government buildings as part of its most recent move to ensure national security and combat security breaches by China.
Headed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has highlighted China to be the world’s biggest threat to security and prosperity, the government commanded its departments in 2022 to halt the installation of Chinese-linked surveillance cameras at government buildings as well as sensitive areas.
In an announcement setting out a detailed instruction of procurement rules, the government stated:
“We will also commit to publish a timeline for the removal of surveillance equipment produced by companies subject to China’s National Intelligence Law from sensitive central government sites.”
“By committing to this timeline, we are providing reassurance and urgency around the removal plans.”
The statement did not mention any particular companies.
The new instruction refers to “visual surveillance systems” made by firms required by Chinese law to co-operate with Beijing’s security services.
The government announced the move amid concerns among MPs about the use of such equipment.
Officials have been told to plan removal of existing equipment completely.
They have also been notified that such security systems should be disconnected to departmental core networks.
In a written statement, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden told MPs a review “has concluded that, in light of the threat to the UK and the increasing capability and connectivity of these systems, additional controls are required”.
He further clarified that this is exclusively concerned with equipment produced by companies under China’s national intelligence law, which states that organisations must “support, co-operate with, and collaborate in national intelligence work”.
Mr Dowden said: “Since security considerations are always paramount around these sites, we are taking action now to prevent any security risks materialising.”
Officials have been urged to consider whether locations that are not designated “sensitive” should follow suit.
When asked about the reason why the government was not commanding the replacement of all present surveillance cameras produced by Chinese companies. A spokeswoman for PM Sunak said the issue was “under constant review and this is a preventative step that’s been taken in line with that approach”.
The mstep has been taken in retaliation to queries raised by MPs and a surveillance antitrust commission, who cautioned this month that the public surveillance infrastructure had been on “digital asbestos”.
Fraser Sampson, government’s independent biometrics and surveillance camera commissioner said: “Almost every aspect of our lives is now under surveillance using advanced systems designed by, and purchased from, companies under the control of other governments, governments to whom those companies have data-sharing obligations within their own domestic legal framework.”
Moreover, there was a need for both “considerable caution when handling the products installed by a previous generation and, as a priority, a moratorium on any further installation until we fully understand the risks we have created”.
Alicia Kearns, who heads the foreign affairs committee and the China Research Group of Conservative MPs, applauded the measure as “a step in the right direction” but said it must be executed further.
A spokesman for Hikvision said: “It is categorically false to represent Hikvision as a threat to national security.
“No respected technical institution or assessment has come to this conclusion.
“Hikvision cannot transmit data from end-users to third parties, we do not manage end-user databases, nor do we sell cloud storage in the UK. Our cameras are compliant with the applicable UK rules and regulations and are subject to strict security requirements.
“We have always been fully transparent about our operations in the UK and have been engaging with the UK government to clarify misunderstandings about the company, our business, and address their concerns. We will seek to urgently engage further with ministers to understand this decision.”