Chinese surveillance firm recommits to UK after new guidance | UK security and counter-terrorism

Hikvision, the Chinese surveillance firm identified by the UK government as a security threat, has “recommitted” to Britain after receiving clarification that a ban on its cameras being positioned at sensitive sites does not extend to public authorities or police stations.

In a message to clients, the Chinese state-owned company, whose equipment is prohibited in the US on national security grounds, said the new guidance would allow it to “move forward with our mission”.

The permissive approach to Hikvision, whose cameras have reportedly been used in Uyghur “re-education camps” in the autonomous territory of Xinjiang in north-west China, has been adopted despite ministers conceding last November that the camera systems and their connectivity posed a threat to the UK’s security.

In a statement to the Commons last year, Oliver Dowden, now the deputy prime minister, said the government was taking “action now to prevent any security risks materialising” by ceasing deployment at “sensitive sites”.

In a letter to Hikvision sent this August, the government’s chief security adviser, Vincent Devine, informed the Chinese company, that while the definition of “sensitive sites” was “not public”, it applied to areas “on the central government estate where security consideration are always paramount – for example, defence and intelligence facilities”.

Devine went on to reassure the Chinese company: “The policy represents instruction and advice to central government departments. It does not apply to private individuals or businesses or other public authorities (outside the central government estate) and was not intended to be relied upon by such persons in relation to their own use of visual surveillance equipment. The policy did not respond to any specific request for a ‘ban’ on the use of Hikvision products.”

The former cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith, who has long raised concerns about the role of the Chinese state in the UK, said the guidance provided to Hikvision was not in line with what he had been told would be government policy.

He said: “It is not what I discussed with ministers at the time and not what I understood them to do be doing. If it’s a security risk, it should be banned from everywhere that is a public body. And it should be well known that the government view is that the British public should not be buying Hikvision as it is a data gatherer and a security risk.

“If you remember originally, Rishi Sunak was clear that they posed a systemic threat when he was standing the leadership. The Foreign Office got to him and the Treasury and they downgraded that to, ridiculously, ‘an epoch-defining challenge’, which is meaningless, and saying they would meet the challenge with ‘robust pragmatism’, which is bollocks. Why? Because the government has decided it can’t afford to have rows with China, it wants more business. I call it Project Kowtow.”

Prof Fraser Sampson, the independent biometrics and surveillance camera commissioner, who found in a survey last year that the police estate in the UK was “shot through” with Chinese surveillance equipment, told the Guardian that he did not believe Hikvision should have any involvement with the state.

He said: “Trust is both imperative and an absolute. You either trust or you don’t. The police need to trust their partners. If the government doesn’t trust this company, why should we?”

The US banned imports and sales of Hikvision equipment last year and there have been calls for the UK to follow.

Beijing’s national intelligence law requires firms to store their data in China and provide Chinese public security and intelligence services with access.

Justin Hollis, a public affairs director at Hikvision, said the company was not a threat to the UK’s security and had ambitious plans in a range of sectors, including transport and health, having had the position clarified.

He said: “Following extensive engagement, the government has written to us to acknowledge that our equipment will not be banned from the broader public sector. This decision recognises the important role Hikvision products play in protecting property and promoting public safety.

“Now that we have confirmation from the UK government and the relevant legislation in the procurement bill has been debated and approved by all sides across the two houses of parliament, we are pleased to publicly renew our commitment to the UK market and move forward with our mission.”

A UK government spokesperson said: “We have been consistently clear about the scope of this commitment and have recently provided an update on the definition of sensitive sites in parliament. The government is committed to publishing a timeline for the removal of surveillance equipment produced by companies subject to China’s national intelligence law from sensitive central government sites.”


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