Posted: Thu 16th Feb 2023

Claim Welsh police forces vulnerable to spying due to Chinese-owned surveillance systems

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Thursday, Feb 16th, 2023

A number of Welsh public bodies including police are set to scrap or pause the use of CCTV cameras linked to China, following concerns over security and human rights.

A BBC investigation found that Hikvision cameras, part-owned by the Chinese government, are being used by three of the four Welsh police forces and the Welsh government.

CCTV Commissioner Fraser Sampson has spoken out about the risks of using the surveillance system, stating that the “use of the surveillance systems was a real risk” and that “you either trust your technology partners for intrusive surveillance or you don’t, and a lot of the evidence is pointing in the don’t direction.”

While Hikvision denies its cameras are a threat to national security, the Welsh government and two forces, North Wales and Gwent, are now either changing surveillance systems or freezing the purchase of equipment amid security and ethical concerns.

Prof Sampson has said that the UK police forces are leaving themselves vulnerable to spying by using Chinese-owned surveillance systems.

He has also raised concerns about the links between the use of the cameras and alleged human rights abuses against the Uyghurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority in China.

The decision comes after the US shot down a number of objects over North American airspace in recent days, including a suspected spy balloon that China said was one of its weather balloons.

Prof Sampson highlighted that the cameras pose a greater risk to public security than spy balloons.

Rhondda MP Chris Bryant, who is on the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, is one of 67 cross-party MPs calling for a ban of Chinese-made surveillance equipment, raising concerns over foreign governments storing information about UK citizens.

The Home Office has stated that the security of surveillance systems is of “vital importance”.

In 2018, Dyfed-Powys Police spent £1.5m on Hikvision CCTV, with the force’s Police and Crime Commissioner Dafydd Llywelyn saying that while he understood concerns, it would be hard to “immediately de-establish” the system.

He said forces would need UK government money for a replacement, and the concerns would play a “major part in decision-making”.

A replacement system will now be installed after Prof Sampson’s comments were put to the Welsh government.

Campaign group Big Brother Watch said the use of Hikvision cameras went “beyond George Orwell’s worst nightmare”. The group added that “the fact that citizens in Wales are being monitored by these cameras is really alarming”.

Hikvision told the BBC: “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 cameras are compliant with the applicable UK laws and regulations and are subject to strict security requirements. We have always been fully transparent about our operations in the UK.”

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