Watchdog issues warning on British police forces using Chinese equipment

Concerns voiced over security and ethics of using the surveillance technology

Most UK police forces responded to a survey regarding surveillance equipment. Getty Images
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

British police forces are heavily reliant on Chinese-made cameras, drones and other surveillance equipment, a survey has revealed.

Bodies using the equipment were “generally aware that there are security and ethical concerns about the companies supplying their kit”, said biometrics and surveillance camera commissioner Fraser Sampson on the findings from a survey carried out by his office, the OBSCC.

The watchdog's warning comes amid growing concerns about the threat of Chinese spy balloons which prompted the UK to review its security measures after the US shot down four objects flying in its airspace this month. Washington declared one of them to be Chinese spyware.

Meanwhile, security fears over police using Chinese-made drones have also been raised.

The questionnaire, sent out in June, asked all 43 police forces in England and Wales — as well as the British Transport Police, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, Ministry of Defence, and the National Crime Agency (NCA) — about their use of CCTV and other surveillance cameras including on drones and helicopters, body-worn video and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR).

The watchdog revealed several of the respondents said their camera systems used equipment about which there had been security or ethical concerns, made by companies such as Dahua, Hikvision, Honeywell, Huawei and Nuuo.

Suspected Chinese spy balloon shot down - in pictures

“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," said Mr Sampson. "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 about our head in the street and elsewhere.

He added: “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.”

US Navy recovers Chinese balloon - in pictures

Of the 47 bodies and forces contacted, 39 responded. City of London, Gloucestershire, Greater Manchester, Gwent, Merseyside, South Yorkshire and Thames Valley police forces and the NCA did not take part in the survey, which the OBSCC said was “disappointing”.

Twenty-three of the 31 respondents that operate cameras on drones said they were aware of “security or ethical concerns” about the Chinese manufacturer DJI, the findings showed.

At least 18 said their external camera systems use equipment about which there had security or ethical concerns, while at least 24 gave the same response when asked about internal camera systems.

What are the UFOs being shot down over North America? - video

At least 11 respondents provided this answer when asked about their ANPR systems. There were also at least two which said they used cameras made by Hikvision for body-worn video.

“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," said a National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) spokesman.

“Model contractual terms and conditions are widely used across policing and these include specific provision for equality, diversity and human rights. These are imposed on contracted suppliers and would be used to enforce any breach of contract.”

Updated: February 15, 2023, 12:01 AM