A cross-party group of nearly 70 parliamentarians have called on the Government to ban the sale and operation of widely-used CCTV brands linked to human rights abuses in China.
The group includes former Conservative ministers David Davis MP, Lord Bethell, Steve Baker MP, and Damien Green MP; leading Labour human rights figures Baroness Chakrabarti and Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws; Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey; SNP Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Alyn Smith; Green MP Caroline Lucas, and crossbench peers.
The 67 parliamentarians “condemn [Hikvision and Dahua’s] involvement in technology-enabled human rights abuses in China” calling for a ban on the tech being sold or used in the UK. They also called for “an independent national review of the scale, capabilities, ethics and rights impact of modern CCTV in the UK”.
The statement, co-ordinated by privacy and civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, is also backed by rights groups including Rene Cassin, Stop Uyghur Genocide, Free Tibet and Hong Kong Watch.
Partly Chinese state-owned CCTV manufacturers Hikvision and Dahua are now banned from trading in the US, owing to security concerns and evidence of their widespread use in so-called “re-education” camps in Xinjiang where an estimated 1 million Uyghurs are detained and subjected to abuse, torture and forced sterilisation. The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee called on the UK to follow suit with a ban of Chinese surveillance companies in November last year.
However, the Government has refused to act and new research shows that UK public bodies are awarding significant contracts to procure the controversial Chinese-made technology. The MPs’ statement follows a six-month investigation involving thousands of Freedom of Information requests by Big Brother Watch, which found that the majority of public bodies use CCTV cameras made by Hikvision or Dahua, including 73% of councils across the UK, 57% of secondary schools in England, 6 out of 10 NHS Trusts, as well as UK universities and police forces.
A number of government departments, including the Home Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), have Hikvision cameras visibly in use on the front of their buildings according to Big Brother Watch, although many departments refused to respond to their FOI requests about use of the technology.
The apparent presence of Hikvision cameras at the entrance of government buildings has raised accusations of hypocrisy, given the Cabinet Office’s warnings that UK companies “should consider the ethical implications of engaging with China on emerging technologies.” The official guidance to tech firms on Chinese investment states, “ Our concerns include China’s use of facial recognition and predictive computer algorithms for mass surveillance, profiling and repression of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and elsewhere (…) to expand social control and limit individual freedoms” – activities widely attributed to Hikvision – and that trading with such companies involved in human rights violations “[poses] a significant risk to your business’s reputation”.
The Government has produced contradictory position statements on Departments’ use of Hikvision. A Cabinet Office FOI response stated that “MOD [Ministry of Defence] guidance is not to use / install Hikvision equipment”. However, in a response to a parliamentary question by David Davis MP on 10th February 2022, Defence Minister Jeremy Quin stated “The Ministry of Defence has not issued guidance to other Government Departments about the use of these [Hikvision] surveillance cameras.”
Big Brother Watch’s research has found that dozens of public bodies have the AI-equipped cameras capable of facial detection, gender recognition and behavioural analysis and offer advanced features such as identifying fights or if someone is wearing a face mask.
Hikvision and Dahua have previously been found to offer ethnicity profiling tools on their CCTV cameras in Xinjiang and both companies have signed several contracts to provide surveillance equipment for cities and concentration camps in the region.
Cybersecurity experts have also identified a number of vulnerabilities in Hikvision and Dahua products over recent years that could endanger privacy. Reports from Italy found that a “flaw” in a Hikvision system led to cameras attempting to connect to servers in China.
This month, further security holes were found in Hikvision products as one of the company’s main remote viewing software tools was found to connect directly to servers in China. Like with many other cybersecurity vulnerabilities, Hikvision blamed the flaws on outdated software.
Jake Hurfurt, Head of Research and Investigations at Big Brother Watch, said:
“Chinese state-owned CCTV has no place watching Britain’s streets. Hikvision and Dahua are closely linked to the genocide in Xinjiang and their low-cost, high-tech cameras are normalising intrusive surveillance in the UK.
“It is horrifying that companies that provide the technological infrastructure for Beijing’s crimes against humanity provide cameras to 61 per cent of public bodies in the UK.
“The widespread use of Hikvision and Dahua CCTV in the UK is creating a dystopian surveillance state that poses serious rights and security risks to the British public, whilst indirectly supporting China’s persecution of ethnic minorities. We urge the Prime Minister to follow the US example and urgently ban Hikvision and Dahua from operating in the UK.
“These revelations show the need for the Government to instigate an independent review of the scale, capabilities, rights and ethics of modern CCTV in Britain.”
David Davis MP said:
“I have long campaigned against the worrying creep of the surveillance state. Big Brother Watch’s latest findings show the shocking extent UK companies are relying on Chinese technology as part of their CCTV networks.
“This technology comes equipped with advance surveillance capabilities such as facial recognition, person tracking and gender identification. These pose a significant threat to civil liberties in our country.
“But in addition to the privacy concerns, these companies, Hikvision and Dahua, are Chinese state-owned companies, raising urgent questions over whether they also pose a threat to national security.
“The US has already blacklisted the companies. We need to be in step with our international partners, and should also look to ban invasive and oppressive technology from these firms.”
Baroness Shami Chakrabarti said:
“UK taxpayers should not be paying for human rights abusing Chinese tech, let alone doing so on such an extraordinary scale. We mustn’t support abuses over there or replicate a China-style surveillance state over here. We need an urgent and fully independent review of surveillance in modern Britain.”
• The parliamentarians’ full statement reads: “We call for a ban on the sale and operation of Hikvision and Dahua surveillance equipment in the UK and condemn their involvement in technology-enabled human rights abuses in China. We call on the Government to commission an independent national review of the scale, capabilities, ethics and rights impact of modern CCTV in the UK.”
• The full list of signatories is available below
• Spokespeople are available – contact Big Brother Watch at email@example.com or 02080758480
• Big Brother Watch has launched a #BanHikvision campaign – find out more at BanHikvision.com
• Read more about the investigation in Big Brother Watch’s new report, Who’s Watching You? The dominance of Chinese state-owned CCTV in the UK
STATEMENT AND SIGNATORIES
We call for a ban on the sale and operation of Hikvision and Dahua surveillance equipment in the UK and condemn their involvement in technology-enabled human rights abuses in China. We call on the Government to commission an independent national review of the scale, capabilities, ethics and rights impact of modern CCTV in the UK.
Steve Baker MP Conservative
David Davis MP Conservative
Damian Green MP Conservative
Andrew Rosindell MP Conservative
Sir Charles Walker MP Conservative
Andrew Bowie MP Conservative
Nusrat Ghani MP Conservative
Baroness Morrissey Conservative
Lord Bethell Conservative
Lord Strathcarron Conservative
Diane Abbott MP Labour
Baroness Chakrabarti Labour
Lord Hendy Labour
Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws Labour
John McDonnell MP Labour
Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate Labour
Lord Hain Labour
Lord Sikka Labour
Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour
Clive Lewis MP Labour
Ian Byrne MP Labour
Kim Johnson MP Labour
Dan Carden MP Labour
Kate Osborne MP Labour
Nadia Whittome MP Labour
Andy McDonald MP Labour
Mick Whitley MP Labour
Rachael Maskell MP Labour
Navendu Mishra MP Labour
Lord Davies of Brixton Labour
Lord Rooker Labour
Baroness Blower Labour
Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour
Chris Bryant MP Labour
Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP Labour
Sir Ed Davey MP Lib Dem
Layla Moran MP Lib Dem
Wendy Chamberlain MP Lib Dem
Sarah Olney MP Lib Dem
Christine Jardine MP Lib Dem
Munira Wilson MP Lib Dem
Sarah Green MP Lib Dem
Lord Purvis of Tweed Lib Dem
Lord Clement-Jones Lib Dem
Lord Storey Lib Dem
Lord Tope Lib Dem
Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Lib Dem
Baroness Thomas of Winchester Lib Dem
Baroness Harris of Richmond Lib Dem
Baroness Ludford Lib Dem
Lord Stoneham of Droxford Lib Dem
Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lib Dem
Lord Stunell Lib Dem
Lord Scriven Lib Dem
Wera Hobhouse MP Lib Dem
Alistair Carmichael MP Lib Dem
Lord Strasburger Lib Dem
Baroness Brinton Lib Dem
Caroline LucasMP Green
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green
Alyn Smith MP SNP
Carol Monaghan MP SNP
Joanna Cherry QC MP SNP
Lord Bishop of St Albans Crossbench
Lord Curry of Kirkharle Crossbench
Baroness Young of Hornsey Crossbench
Lord Alton Crossbench
Big Brother Watch
Stop Uyghur Genocide
Hong Kong Watch