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The Department of Health has banned the purchase of cameras made by the Chinese state-backed technology company Hikvision amid allegations it has been used to spy on the country’s Uyghur minority.
Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, has ordered officials to stop buying security cameras from the company after a procurement review brought up ethical concerns.
It is believed to be the first Whitehall department to block purchases of Hikvision products, more than one million of which are installed across Britain.
The department has dozens of cameras installed in its buildings, and a Hikvision camera recorded Matt Hancock embracing an aide last summer, costing the former health secretary his job.
While a review is not believed to have raised security issues over the cameras and existing ones are set to stay in use, Mr Javid has barred the purchase of new products.
A Whitehall source said: “Following a review in which ethical concerns were raised, the department has been instructed to cease procurement of any further equipment or services from the company either directly or indirectly.”
More than 1.3m Hikvision cameras are installed in schools, hospitals and councils around Britain. The company has been blacklisted by the US government and last year the Foreign Affairs Committee recommended that they be banned in the UK.
Fraser Sampson, the Biometrics and Surveillance Commissioner, recently pulled out of an industry conference in protest at Hikvision’s proposed appearance there.
The company is 42pc owned by the Chinese state and has been criticised for taking part in public contracts to monitor mosques and re-education camps in the Western Chinese region of Xinjiang.
There are 82 Hikvision products in use at the Department of Health and Social Care, health minister Lord Syed Kamall told Lord David Alton in response to a recent parliamentary question.
A Hikvision camera was installed in Mr Hancock’s office and recorded the former health secretary kissing his aide Gina Coladangelo last summer. A leak of the footage led Mr Hancock to resign and the camera was subsequently removed.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ““We take the security of our personnel, systems and establishments very seriously and have robust measures in place. We do not comment on specific security arrangements or procedures.”
Hikvision has said it takes all ethical concerns seriously and that data is not sent to China.
Last summer, the Foreign Affairs Committee recommended that the Government ban Hikvision from operating in the UK.
In 2019, Hikvision was added to the US entity list, with the government saying it had “been implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups”.
A spokesman for Hikvision said: “Hikvision takes all reports regarding human rights very seriously and recognizes our responsibility for protecting people and property. The company has been engaging with governments globally to clarify misunderstandings about the company, our business, and address their concerns.
“In the recent past we have cooperated with UK government inquiries, including the Business and Foreign Affairs Select Committees, where the UK government rejected the request to ban Hikvision’s continued operation in the UK.”