Forget spy balloons, worry about the Chinese cameras over our heads
Forget the spy balloons, worry about the Chinese cameras over our heads: Surveillance watchdog issues starkest warning yet over security risks posed by devices and drones built in Beijing that are used by Britain’s police forces
- Surveillance tsar Fraser Sampson said many people are unaware of the risks
- Some constabularies using kit made by Huawei, banned from UK’s 5G network
Britons should worry more about Chinese CCTV cameras 6ft over their heads than spy balloons high in the sky, a watchdog warns today.
A damning report from surveillance tsar Fraser Sampson said Beijing-linked technology was increasingly common and too many people were ignoring – or unaware of – the risks.
He expressed concern that police forces were ‘shot through’ with cameras, drones and number-plate readers made by firms accused of security and ethical failures.
Professor Sampson’s audit shows some constabularies are using kit made by Huawei, even though it has been long banned from the UK’s 5G phone network over espionage fears.
Others have deals with Hikvision despite ministers ruling last year that the company’s CCTV cameras could no longer be installed on government buildings because of ‘possible security risks’.
And the drone manufacturer used by most forces, DJI, has been placed on a Pentagon blacklist as a ‘Chinese military company’.
Britons should worry more about Chinese CCTV cameras 6ft over their heads than spy balloons high in the sky, a watchdog warns today
A pedestrian walks past a Hikvision surveillance camera installed on a footbridge
Professor Sampson, who is the biometrics and surveillance camera commissioner, says police chiefs are continuing to use the suppliers even though they know about the concerns raised.
He said Chinese-made police technology was a security risk because the ruling Communist Party commandeered information from its firms. ‘It is abundantly clear from this detailed analysis of the survey results that the police estate in the UK is shot through with Chinese surveillance cameras,’ he added.
‘It is also clear the forces deploying this equipment are generally aware that there are security and ethical concerns about the companies that supply their kit.
‘There has been a lot in the news in recent days about how concerned we should be about Chinese spy balloons 60,000ft up in the sky. I do not understand why we are not at least as concerned about the Chinese cameras 6ft above our head in the street and elsewhere.’
Security expert Professor Anthony Glees said: ‘People might suppose the military and the police would never do anything as naive as allow the data they were interested in to be shared by Beijing.
‘But in effect those using the drones are giving, quite legally, their entire data set to a Chinese company. And we know that there is no such thing as a ‘private’ Chinese company.
‘If (God forbid) our country were ever to find itself at war with China, or even in a situation of heightened tension, there could be nuggets in the data that could allow military and police to be disabled.’
Professor Sampson’s office asked all 43 police forces in England and Wales about their use of surveillance systems including CCTV, drones, helicopters, automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) systems, body-worn video cameras and facial recognition.
Revealed today, the results show that 18 forces use CCTV cameras covering high streets and other public spaces that were made by firms with security or ethical concerns, including state-linked Dahua as well as Hikvision and Huawei. And 24 said they used internal cameras in their buildings made by controversial Chinese firms.
Revealed today, the results show that 18 forces use CCTV cameras covering high streets and other public spaces that were made by firms with security or ethical concerns, including state-linked Dahua as well as Hikvision and Huawei (file image)
Asked about their ANPR – used to identify cars and see whether they are linked to criminal suspects – 11 forces said they had security or ethical concerns about the equipment they were using.
In two forces, frontline officers’ uniforms are kitted out with body-worn cameras made by Hikvision, which in addition to its government CCTV ban has been branded an ‘unacceptable risk to the national security’ of the United States.
Tory MP Bob Seely, who sits on the Commons foreign affairs committee, said: ‘We need to be getting this Chinese high-tech kit out of the UK now.’
It is believed that Home Secretary Suella Braverman wants chief constables to ensure their equipment does not pose a cyber security risk. Security minister Tom Tugendhat is leading a taskforce to review all such contracts.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council said: ‘Following government guidance where governmental departments have been instructed to cease the deployment of such equipment around sensitive sites, UK policing will conduct necessary reviews to ensure national security standards are met.’
Philip Ingram, a former colonel in military intelligence, added: ‘A lot of what these companies collect is not needed for the operations of their devices. It’s a massive risk that will be being exploited.’
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