Thirty-four MPs and a further thirty-three members of the House of Lords have called for a ban on the sale and operation of surveillance technology that is used by the majority of UK councils, over the companies’ alleged involvement in human rights abuses in China.
In a joint statement, the cross-party group of MPs condemned the two companies, Hikvision and Dahua, for “their involvement in technology-enabled human rights abuses in China”.
The parliamentarians also called on the Government to commission an independent national review of the scale, capabilities, ethics and rights impact of modern CCTV in the UK.
According to research conducted by privacy and civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, 73% of councils in the UK surveyed use CCTV cameras manufactured by either Hikvision or Dahua.
The research, based off the findings of Freedom of Information requests sent to public bodies across the UK, also revealed that 57% of secondary schools in England and 6 out of 10 NHS Trusts are using equipment manufactured by the companies.
A spokesperson for Hikvision said CCTV has played a “critical role in the UK in the fight against crime and terrorism. Hikvision is proud of the role we play in that.
“The UK also has fringe groups who would like to see a massive reduction of CCTV in the UK who are willing to throw allegations around about CCTV, and who would lie to demonise Hikvision.
“Hikvision has always worked with government bodies to provide solutions to the UK’s CCTV requirements.”
It added: “Hikvision takes all reports of human rights very seriously and recognises our responsibility for protecting people. The company has publicly addressed this issue in their annual ESG Report and you can read the company’s statement on the issue there https://www.hikvision.com/en/about-us/esg-report/.”
A spokesperson for Dahua Technology, which denies being involved in human rights abuses in China, said the company “fully supports a fair and transparent” review of the role that video surveillance plays in the safety and security of the UK and its population.
“However, we do not believe the call for Dahua ban in UK is justified,” the company stated.
“For the past six years, we have been dedicated to serving customers in this important market in full compliance with all applicable laws and rules. We believe that the UK Parliament will judge us on this substantive basis.
“As we have repeated many times in response to similarly misleading media reports, we are a private-sector business, traded on the public markets that adheres to standards for ethical practices in our industry. We are not controlled by any government. Our company has not been involved directly or indirectly in promoting human rights violations in any country in which we operate. This includes a commitment to never develop solutions to identify a single ethnic, racial or national group."
It added: “In the meantime, we respectfully ask UK Parliament and our customers to recognize that our product and technology pose no threat to national security.”
Responding to the letter, a Government spokesperson 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.''
In March of this year, the Commissioner for the Retention and Use of Biometric Material and Surveillance Camera Commissioner, Professor Fraser Sampson, questioned the use of Hikvision cameras by national and local government.
His statement came after media reports quoted an unnamed Whitehall source saying that the then Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, had banned Hikvision for competing for new business in the Department of Health after a procurement review revealed “ethical concerns”.
The Commissioner asked Hikvision to reveal the extent of its involvement with the Chinese state’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang. However, the company has failed to answer the questions put to them, the Commissioner claimed.
Professor Sampson said if it is the case that the Department of Health has ruled out Hikvision from future procurement exercises, then “arguably the whole public sector” should do the same.
In a statement issued at the time, Profession Sampson said: “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. If Mr Javid has banned Hikvision for those reasons, then he should be congratulated.”
He added: “If the decision as reported is true, the same considerations would apply equally to all branches of government, and, arguably, the whole of the public sector. If other areas of national and local government have carried out due diligence in relation to their human rights obligations, I’d be interested to see the information they used; if they haven’t then I’d be interested to understand how the risks are being properly addressed.”