Chinese security giant behind more than one million UK CCTV cameras faces Trump ban

Hannah Boland
Hikvision is among China's largest technology companies, and its cameras are used across Africa, the US, and Europe  - ANDY RAIN/EPA

More than a million surveillance cameras in the UK, including in airports and NHS trusts, were built by a Chinese company the US is considering blacklisting over security fears.

Hikvision is one of the biggest suppliers of CCTV cameras across the world, and its products are used across Africa, the US, and Europe. Estimates suggest there are more than 1.3 million of the company's cameras installed on Britain's roads, thought to make up much as a quarter of all CCTV cameras.

According to Freedom of Information requests, councils in Nottingham and Hertfordshire, police forces, airports, and NHS Trusts such as the Royal Cornwall Hospitals and the North East Ambulance Service, have all deployed the technology around their sites. 

Reports suggested earlier this year that the cameras had even been used in parliamentary buildings, although the House of Commons says this was not the case.

Questions over whether the company should be allowed a foothold in the market, however, ramped up on Wednesday, after reports emerged that Washington was considering banning Hikvision from doing business with US firms.

One reason for the move was said to be claims it is supplying technology to the Chinese state used to detain and track Uighur Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang.

According to a recent report from independent think tank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Hikvision is "deeply implicated" in the oppression of Muslims, and has won contracts including one to implement facial recognition surveillance on mosques. 

The company was specifically named in a letter to President Donald Trump's top advisors last month from a group of lawyers urging action to be taken over the treatment of the Muslim community in China. 

Mr Trump was said to be considering blacklisting Hikvision, together with four other Chinese surveillance companies, and reports said fears around espionage was another reason he may take the decision to implement the further restrictions.

The move, if taken, would be seen as an escalation of the trade war between the US and China. Mr Trump already took steps to clamp down on Chinese titan Huawei, blacklisting the company earlier this week.

Speaking toThe Telegraph, Norman Lamb MP said: "We have to take these human rights abuses incredibly seriously, and I think we have to ask ourselves quite a profound question about whether we should be doing business with companies that are implicated in human rights abuses within China or indeed any other country.

"It does suggest in itself a close relationship between the company and the state which is the very point that is causing so much concern over whether we should be involving Huawei in the 5G roll-out. If you want evidence of a close relationship, working with the Chinese government on the incarceration and control of its citizens, breaching their human rights, appears to me to be some important evidence in that direction," he added. 

Alistair Carmichael MP, who this year chaired a Westminster debate titled 'Human rights in Xinjiang', said: "We know from what we have seen in China that the technology developed and manufactured by Hikvision is capable of being used for massively intrusive surveillance.

"Hikvision must be accountable for what they have done in China before they can be allowed to grow a business in the UK. America looks to be acting to blacklist the company. The British government must look carefully now at the evidence and decide whether they should take the same steps."

A spokesman for Hikvision says the company "takes these concerns very seriously and has engaged with the U.S. government regarding all of this since last October".

"In light of them, it has already retained human rights expert and former US Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper to advise the company regarding human rights compliance," the spokesman said. 

"Separately, Hikvision takes cybersecurity very seriously as a company and follows all applicable laws and regulations in the markets we operate. The company has its products regularly tested for vulnerabilities and has received certifications for their cybersecurity standards."