British policing has been “shot through” with Chinese-made cameras, drones, and surveillance systems, according to a watchdog on Thursday. Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner Fraser Sampson published the final analysis of a survey, showing at least half of the police forces in England and Wales were using camera systems with security or ethical concerns. Last year, Fraser released an initial analysis based on responses received by then.
Out of the 47 forces Sampson’s office (OBSCC) wrote to, including 43 local police forces, the British Transport Police, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the Ministry of Defence, and the National Crime Agency (NCA), 39 completed the survey. The reports said it was “disappointing” that only 91 percent of the forces returned the survey despite the fact OBSCC accepted responses made three months after the closing date.
Analysis showed that at least 18 respondents, around 38 percent of all forces, told the OBSCC they were using external camera system equipment that has been flagged for having security or ethical concerns, including Dahua, Hikvision, Honeywell and Huawei, and Nuuo. More than half of the forces (at least 24) said they were using this equipment in their internal camera systems. At least 11 respondents say their Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) systems use equipment flagged for security or ethical concerns while at least two respondents use Hikvision cameras in their body-worn video systems.
The commissioner also said 23 of the 31 respondents who said they operate cameras on drones said they were aware of security or ethical concerns about DJI, the Chinese company that made their drones. Those who didn’t respond to the survey included the NCA and police forces in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, City of London, Gloucestershire, Gwent, South Yorkshire, and Thames Valley.
The watchdog said it’s “abundantly clear” that “the police estate in the UK is shot through with Chinese surveillance cameras.” Fraser Sampson noted that it is “also clear that the forces deploying this equipment are generally aware that there are security and ethical concerns about the companies that supply their kit.” Referring to the recent incidents in which Chinese spy balloons were found “60,000 feet up in the sky” over the Americas, Sampson said he doesn’t understand why the UK is “not at least as concerned about the Chinese cameras six feet about our head in the street and elsewhere.”
Hikvision and Dahua, two world-leading surveillance camera manufacturers ultimately owned by the Chinese Communist Party, are the main suppliers of surveillance cameras in Xinjiang, where the Uyghur Tribunal—chaired by the prominent British barrister and judge Sir Geoffrey Nice KC—found genocide had been taking place. The cameras have also been found to have backdoors and vulnerabilities, sparking security concerns. The United States has blacklisted both companies.
In response, the UK government last year told its departments to stop installing new Chinese surveillance cameras in sensitive sites, citing security considerations, and advised them to consider replacing the existing ones before the maintenance schedule and do the same with non-sensitive sites. Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden noted that the manufacturers are subject to China’s National Intelligence Law, a law that requires all organisations and citizens to “support, assist, and cooperate with national intelligence efforts.”
Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner Fraser Sampson said that “we should, both for security and ethical reasons, really be asking ourselves whether it is ever appropriate for public bodies to use equipment made by companies with such serious questions hanging over them.” He also warned that the responsible use of surveillance is vital to gain public trust.
In response, a spokesman for the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said that following government guidance, UK Policing will conduct necessary reviews to ensure national security standards are met. A Hikvision spokesman said that it is “categorically false to represent Hikvision as a threat to national security.” He added that the company welcomed the NPCC review and is “committed to upholding the highest standards and respect for human rights.”
PA Media contributed to this report.