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Chinese surveillance firm recommits to UK after new guidance

Updated: Feb 20

Exclusive: Hikvision, whose kit is banned in US, receives clarification about where its cameras can be placed in the UK

Hikvision, the Chinese surveillance firm identified by the UK government as a security threat, has “recommitted” to Britain after receiving clarification that a ban on its cameras being positioned at sensitive sites does not extend to public authorities or police stations.

In a message to clients, the Chinese state-owned company, whose equipment is prohibited in the US on national security grounds, said the new guidance would allow it to “move forward with our mission”.

The permissive approach to Hikvision, whose cameras have reportedly been used in Uyghur “re-education camps” in the autonomous territory of Xinjiang in north-west China, has been adopted despite ministers conceding last November that the camera systems and their connectivity posed a threat to the UK’s security.

In a statement to the Commons last year, Oliver Dowden, now the deputy prime minister, said the government was taking “action now to prevent any security risks materialising” by ceasing deployment at “sensitive sites”.

In a letter to Hikvision sent this August, the government’s chief security adviser, Vincent Devine, informed the Chinese company, that while the definition of “sensitive sites” was “not public”, it applied to areas “on the central government estate where security consideration are always paramount – for example, defence and intelligence facilities”.

Devine went on to reassure the Chinese company: “The policy represents instruction and advice to central government departments. It does not apply to private individuals or businesses or other public authorities (outside the central government estate) and was not intended to be relied upon by such persons in relation to their own use of visual surveillance equipment. The policy did not respond to any specific request for a ‘ban’ on the use of Hikvision products.”

See Sensitive Sites info below

Prof Fraser Sampson, the independent biometrics and surveillance camera commissioner, who found in a survey last year that the police estate in the UK was “shot through” with Chinese surveillance equipment, told the Guardian that he did not believe Hikvision should have any involvement with the state.

He said: “Trust is both imperative and an absolute. You either trust or you don’t. The police need to trust their partners. If the government doesn’t trust this company, why should we?”

Justin Hollis, a public affairs director at Hikvision, said the company was not a threat to the UK’s security and had ambitious plans in a range of sectors, including transport and health, having had the position clarified.

He said: “Following extensive engagement, the government has written to us to acknowledge that our equipment will not be banned from the broader public sector. This decision recognises the important role Hikvision products play in protecting property and promoting public safety.

“Now that we have confirmation from the UK government and the relevant legislation in the procurement bill has been debated and approved by all sides across the two houses of parliament, we are pleased to publicly renew our commitment to the UK market and move forward with our mission.”

A UK government spokesperson said: “We have been consistently clear about the scope of this commitment and have recently provided an update on the definition of sensitive sites in parliament. The government is committed to publishing a timeline for the removal of surveillance equipment produced by companies subject to China’s national intelligence law from sensitive central government sites.”

The CCTV User Group received this information from Hikvision late this afternoon and this clarifies those sites that are considered to be 'Sensitive'.

"We sent a partner letter yesterday (attached) regarding a letter of confirmation we received from the Government regarding “sensitive sites”. The letter which we received lists two examples: defence and intelligence facilities.

Subsequently there has been further clarity regarding sensitive sites from the following:

A public statement from Baroness Neville Rolfe, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, during the Procurement Bill debate 11th September 6:45pm (see this statement here)

This went on to state:

“I am happy to offer a clear definition of the sites that our commitments regarding physical surveillance will apply to.

Our commitment will apply to government departments and cover their sensitive sites, which are:

  • any building or complex that routinely holds secret material or above;

  • any location that hosts a significant proportion of officials holding developed vetting clearance;

  • any location which is routinely used by Ministers; and any government location covered under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005.”

We have been informed, persons responsible for the sites listed above, have all officially been informed by central government and no department has therefore been left in any doubt as to whether the policy applies to them.

We plan to commence direct communications with police, health and local authority sectors in the coming days. Our contacts are likely to be senior management.

We would like to share this communication with the hope you might forward the information to your members so all receive the same clarity."

Download the Hikvision 'Partners Letter' about this matter, below.

Partner Letter - UK operations update 23 October 2023
Download PDF • 684KB

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