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Survey shows UK police rely heavily on Chinese surveillance tech


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Surveillance cameras
Image source: A Jackson

Police forces in the UK are shot through with Chinese camera technology, according to a survey by the Office of the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner (OBSCC).

It has conducted a survey last June in which the 39 responses from forces and other bodies indicated that at least 18 use external camera systems about which there have been security or ethical concerns, 24 use internal systems subject to similar concerns, and 11 use automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) systems affected.

In addition, at least two use cameras made by Hikvision – about which the commissioner has previously expressed concerns – in their body-worn video systems, and 23 of 31 respondents who operate cameras on drones/unmanned aerial vehicles said they were aware of security or ethical concerns about manufacturer DJI.

Shot through

Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner Fraser Sampson said: “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. It is also clear that 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 60,000 feet up in the sky. I do not understand why we are not at least as concerned about the Chinese cameras six feet above our head in the street and elsewhere.

“Clearly it is vital sometimes that the police must be able to use intrusive surveillance technology in public places. But if they want the public to trust them to do so, they must be able to persuade us, not only that they are working partners and providers that can be trusted, but also that they will use the technology available to them lawfully, responsibly and according to a set of clear agreed principles.

“Parliament has already acted to curtail the use of equipment made by several Chinese manufacturers from some areas of public life where security is key. Myself and others have been saying for some time that we should, both for security and ethical reasons, really be asking ourselves whether it is ever appropriate for public bodies to use equipment made by companies with such serious questions hanging over them.”

Survey details

The survey involved approaches to 43 police forces in England and Wales, the British Transport Police, Civil Nuclear Constabulary, Ministry of Defence and National Crime Agency.

The OBSCC noted that the response rate fell from 100% on previous similar surveys to 91% for this one, despite responses being accepted more than three months after the initial deadline. It noted the return was “disappointing (with) some noticeable absences in returns this time, including some of the larger police forces”.

Companies noted in the survey as suppliers to police forces include Dahua, Hikvision, Honeywell and Huawei, and Nuuo.

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