The Government is being urged to clarify its policy on the purchase of surveillance cameras which are in use in Coventry from a Chinese tech company amid concerns it is involved in the oppression of the country’s Uighur minority. The biometrics and surveillance camera commissioner Fraser Sampson welcomed reports Health Secretary Sajid Javid has blocked further purchases from Hikvision after a procurement review raised ethical concerns.
In a letter to the Communities Secretary Michael Gove and the Cabinet Office Minister Michael Ellis, he said if that was the reason for the decision there was no justification for not extending the ban to all government departments and local authorities. Professor Sampson said that he had repeatedly challenged Hikvision – which is part-owned by the Chinese state – about its involvement in abuses against the Uighurs, but after eight months was yet to receive any reply.
He noted the Government had formally recognised that “widespread, systematic human rights violations” were taking place in China’s Xinjiang province, including the extra-judicial detention of more a million Uighur Muslims and other minorities. He said there was “extensive and invasive surveillance” targeting minorities – as well as forced labour and the suppression of births – which relied heavily on the use of surveillance technology.
“There are serious unanswered questions about Hikvision’s involvement in appalling human rights abuses in China,” he said. “The company seems unwilling or unable to provide assurances about the ethics of some of its operations and about security concerns associated with its equipment.
“If companies won’t provide the information needed to do proper due diligence in relation to ethics and security, then they clearly should not be allowed to bid for contracts within government, or anywhere else in the public sector for that matter.” A report last year by the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee recommended that equipment manufactured by companies like Hikvision should not be permitted to operate in the UK.
It said the firm’s cameras had been deployed throughout Xinjiang and that it provided the “primary camera technology” used in the internment camps. It said independent reports suggested its cameras were in use in areas throughout the UK – including Kensington and Chelsea, Guildford, and Coventry – in locations such as leisure centres and even schools.
The committee expressed concern that they were collecting facial recognition data which could then be used by the Chinese government. A Government spokesman said: “We take the security of our citizens, systems and establishments very seriously and have a range of measures in place to scrutinise the integrity of our arrangements.”