A group of politicians and lawmakers in the UK have backed a campaign to ban the sale of CCTV systems made by companies alleged to introduce potential security issues as well as being linked to human rights abuses in China.
Organized by campaign group Big Brother Watch, the letter said that partly Chinese state-owned CCTV manufacturers Hikvision and Dahua should be banned from sale or use in the UK.
Both manufacturers are banned from trading in the US, owing both to security concerns and alleged evidence of their use in so-called “re-education” camps in Xinjiang, where China is accused of detaining an estimated 1 million Uyghurs and subjecting them to abuse, torture, and forced sterilization, the campaigners said.
UK politicians intent on signing the letter include Conservative Members of Parliament David Davis, Steve Baker, Damian Green, and the Tory peer Lord Bethell. The list includes leading Labour human rights figures Baronesses Chakrabarti and Kennedy, and Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey. The Scottish National Party is represented by foreign affairs spokesperson Alyn Smith. Green MP Caroline Lucas also backed the call.
In total 67 parliamentarians said they “condemn [Hikvision and Dahua’s] involvement” in what they called “technology-enabled human rights abuses in China” and called 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.”
For its part, Hikvision last year denied any wrongdoing in an exchange with the UK’s Surveillance Camera Commissioner, stating:
The ethics of state surveillance
New research shows that UK public bodies are awarding significant contracts to procure the controversial 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 percent of councils across the UK, 57 percent of secondary schools in England, six out of 10 NHS Trusts, as well as universities and police forces.
Meanwhile, in central government, 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, Big Brother Watch claimed.
Yet official Cabinet Office guidance says UK companies “should consider the ethical implications of engaging with China on emerging technologies.”
Neither Hikvision nor Dahua actually operate the cameras that are sold in the UK, but the ethics of data-gathering by the state more generally, regardless of vendor, is also up for debate.
Big Brother Watch said its research has found that dozens of public bodies have the AI-equipped cameras capable of facial detection, gender recognition, and behavioral analysis, and offer advanced features such as identifying people having physical fights or discerning the identity of somebody wearing a face mask.
David Davis MP said: “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.”
Last year, the Foreign Affairs Committee published a report calling for surveillance companies like Hikvision to be banned from the UK.
“The Committee recommends that the government forbids surveillance companies like Hikvision – which provide surveillance equipment to the detention camps – from operating in the UK. Hikvision cameras currently operate throughout the UK, in leisure centres and even schools,” it said. ®