Government departments have been ordered to stop installing surveillance cameras made by Chinese firms on “sensitive sites” due to security concerns.
The order applies to “visual surveillance systems” made by firms subject to China’s national security law, which requires companies to co-operate with Beijing’s security services.
Whitehall ministries have been told existing equipment should not be connected to departmental core networks and consideration should be given to removing it entirely.
The shift in policy was announced by Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden and follows concern in Westminster about the use of Chinese-made equipment.
Mr Dowden told MPs: “The Government Security Group has undertaken a review of the current and future possible security risks associated with the installation of visual surveillance systems on the government estate.
“The 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.
“Departments have therefore been instructed to cease deployment of such equipment on to sensitive sites, where it is produced by companies subject to the national intelligence law of the People’s Republic of China.
“Since security considerations are always paramount around these sites, we are taking action now to prevent any security risks materialising.”
Mr Dowden said “no such equipment should be connected to departmental core networks” and ministries should consider whether they should immediately remove and replace such equipment from sensitive sites, rather than wait for scheduled upgrades.
Officials have also been urged to consider whether the same “risk mitigation” should be extended to locations that are not designated “sensitive”.
The move follows concerns raised by MPs and a surveillance watchdog.
In June, the biometrics and surveillance camera commissioner Fraser Sampson 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.”
The public surveillance infrastructure was built on “digital asbestos”, Mr Sampson warned, “requiring 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”.
The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has previously called for the prohibition of equipment manufactured by Hikvision and other companies said to have had their cameras deployed in internment camps in China’s Xinjiang province.
This should now be backed up by a new procurement framework that not only excludes suppliers facilitating systematic persecution – but also provides alternatives to tech companies that have the potential to transfer UK citizens’ data into the hands of authoritarian regimes 2/
— Alicia Kearns MP (@aliciakearns) November 24, 2022
It was reported Hikvision cameras were used inside the Department of Health and Social Care, where security concerns were raised over leaked CCTV showing then-health secretary Matt Hancock kissing an aide.
Alicia Kearns, chairwoman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and the China Research Group of MPs, welcomed the move but said it should go further.
The Tory MP said: “Removing Chinese surveillance cameras from the estate is a step in the right direction – but we can go much further.
“Public bodies and local authorities should not be procuring from surveillance companies, such as Hikvision, that have consistently failed to come clean over their complicity in CCP-orchestrated (Chinese Communist Party) human rights abuses against the Uighur people and other minorities in Xinjiang.
“Any ban should also be backed up by a new national procurement framework that provides alternatives to Chinese state-backed tech that could be compelled to transfer vast amounts of UK citizen data into the hands of the CCP.”
A Hikvision spokesman 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.”