Australian lawmakers confirmed a nationwide campaign is underway to remove Chinese-made cameras from their constituency offices due to concerns they contain spyware. At a Senate estimates hearing on Feb. 14, Department of Finance officials said 65 offices had Chinese-manufactured Hikvision and Dahua security cameras installed, with 45 offices still needing to have the cameras removed.
The Daily Telegraph reported that 65 federal MPs were fitted with closed-circuit television systems (CCTV), while as many as 88 had both security cameras and intercom systems. Officials from the Department also confirmed that the department sent letters to affected MPs last July alerting them of plans to upgrade their security systems, but it was not revealed if the MPs were aware of the Chinese-made surveillance equipment installed in their offices.
“We acknowledge the concerns, absolutely, and we are working with security agencies on that, but there is no particular concern that is driving the immediate replacement right now because they are not (connected to the internet),” the official told Daily Telegraph.
Mary Wiley-Smith, Deputy Secretary at the Department of Finance, said the department never received a recommendation to remove the systems, but the Hikvision and Dahua equipment was no longer on its approved list. This came after a revelation last week that almost 1000 Chinese-made surveillance cameras were installed across over 250 sites of Commonwealth departments and agencies, including foreign affairs and defence sites.
Shadow Minister for Cyber Security & Countering Foreign Interference James Paterson released the findings of a six-month audit of all commonwealth departments, which found the federal government buildings “riddled with CCP spyware.” The cameras were provided by Chinese companies Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co. and Zhejiang Dahua Technology, both accused of being involved in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s human rights atrocities against Uyghurs in the western region of Xinjiang and have been banned by the United Kingdom and the United States in November 2022.
Hikvision has been revealed to have close ties to the CCP and its military. Partly owned by the CCP regime, the group is the world’s largest video surveillance manufacturer. According to the CCP’s National Intelligence Law enacted in 2017, the communist regime can compel any organisation or citizen to “support, assist, and cooperate with state intelligence work.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles ordered on Feb. 9 the Defence department to remove all cameras made by Hikvision and Dahua. “It’s important that these cameras be removed,” he told Sydney radio 2GB. “Within Defence, all the cameras that were registered to this company that we’re aware of have been removed. In addition to that, I’ve also asked Defence to go through and do another audit so that we can be completely clear about this.” The Defence Minister said the surveillance systems were not spy cameras and that lots of technology were imported from overseas.
Defence deputy secretary for security and estate Celia Perkins said the department became aware of the issue in 2018, with advice from the intelligence community suggesting they “proceed with caution” with some systems in use. “Following some updating advice and guidance in the United States, in the United Kingdom, and media reporting on that late last year, we undertook a refresh of our review,” Perkins told a Senate estimates hearing on Feb 15. “We identified 41 systems on 17 sites, about half of those had been decommissioned.”
As of now, twenty CCTV systems have been removed and the government plans to replace all the equipment by April. However, the dismantling of the intercom system is still in the exploratory phase.
AAP contributed to this report.