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Whitehall bans Chinese cameras that caught Matt Hancock affair

Matt Hancock affair
Matt Hancock affair

Government departments have been banned from installing Chinese CCTV equipment at “sensitive sites” due to national security concerns.

Oliver Dowden, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said: “In light of the threat to the UK and the increasing capability and connectivity of these systems, additional controls are required.”

Cameras made by Chinese companies Hikvision and Dahua, two of the world’s leading CCTV suppliers, are expected to fall under the ban.

Last year, a Hikvision camera was blamed for capturing former health secretary Matt Hancock embracing an aide, an image that was later leaked to the press and cost him his job.

Mr Dowden said departments had been ordered to stop deployments from companies that are subject to China’s national intelligence law, which can compel Chinese companies to handover sensitive data to state spy agencies.

He added departments should disconnect these security cameras from “core networks” and consider proactively removing equipment from sensitive sites rather than waiting for planned upgrades.

The decision comes after calls from MPs to ban Chinese security cameras from Parliament amid concerns China-made surveillance technology has quietly spread throughout the public sector.

Fraser Sampson, the UK’s surveillance camera commissioner, warned in a letter in June that advanced CCTV technology was a form of “digital asbestos” and called for a “moratorium on any further installation until we fully understand the risks we have created”.

Mr Sampson added: “Almost every aspect of our lives is now under surveillance using advanced systems designed by, and purchased from, companies under the control of other governments.”

The cameras have already been banned from several departments, including being stripped from the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions.

Many security cameras come with advanced software that can be used for intruder detection and link up to computer programmes or smartphone apps.

MPs had previously called for a ban on technology from Hikvision over claims its technology is widely used in China’s Xinjiang province, where Uyghur muslims have faced repression and internment.

Hikvision has denied claims its technology has been used in this way, describing the accusations as “unsubstantiated” and demands for a ban a “knee-jerk reaction”.

Alicia Kearns, a Conservative MP and chair of the China Research Group, called for a wider ban on public authorities procuring from companies linked to China’s alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

She said: “Removing Chinese surveillance cameras from the estate is a step in the right direction – but we can go much further.”

A Hikvision spokesman said on Thursday: "It is categorically false to represent Hikvision as a threat to national security. No respected technical institution or assessment has come to this conclusion. Hikvision cannot transmit data from end-users to third parties, we do not manage end-user databases, nor do we sell cloud storage in the UK.

“Our cameras are compliant with the applicable UK rules and regulations and are subject to strict security requirements. We have always been fully transparent about our operations in the UK and have been engaging with the UK Government to clarify misunderstandings about the company, our business, and address their concerns. We will seek to urgently engage further with ministers to understand this decision.”