Surveillance cameras manufactured by Hikvision, a Chinese company implicated in grave human rights violations and blacklisted by the US government, are used throughout the UK, from leisure centres in London to school toilets in west Norfolk.
While the use of surveillance cameras had already raised concerns in the British parliament last year, use of the cameras has increased in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, despite allegations by the US government that the company’s cameras were used to monitor Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in China who were held
China experts in the United States have also expressed concern that the cameras could be used by Chinese intelligence to spy on or collect data from individuals outside of China.
“The question is whether the Chinese are expanding their surveillance state beyond their borders. You could argue that they are when other countries use technologies like Hikvision on their own citizens. They can now do it on a global scale, “said James Lewis, a researcher at Washington, DC’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Hikvision has refuted these allegations, claiming that there is no evidence that surveillance collected by its cameras in other countries has ever been sent to Beijing.
However, the deployment of the Hikvision cameras in Kensington and Chelsea, Chelmsford, Guildford council, Coventry council, and Mole Valley council, among others, without any formal statement of concern by the British government – public records show they are being used in Kensington and Chelsea, C
David Lloyd Leisure, a high-end UK gym chain that has stated that it has “zero tolerance” for modern slavery, has installed Hikvision thermal cameras in some of its gyms as part of its Covid-19 safety protocol.
Public records in west Norfolk show that the cameras were installed in toilets at Smithdon High School in Hunstanton, ostensibly “to secure the health and personal safety of all students and to prevent vandalism and damage.”
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The Home Office agreed in February to allow Hikvision to attend a security and policing trade fair in Farnborough, Hampshire, according to The Guardian. The invitation came just months after the US government revealed that Hikvision was one of dozens of Chinese companies “involved in human rights violations and abuses” in China as part of the country’s campaign of “repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-tech surveillance” in
The world’s largest supplier of surveillance equipment has admitted that its cameras may have been used in “re-education camps,” the internment camps used to detain at least a million members of China’s Muslim minorities.
Hikvision cameras are still used in the United States, but the company was placed on the US Department of Commerce’s entities list last year, making it impossible for Hikvision to purchase parts and components from US companies without a special licence. The Pentagon has also listed the company as being owned or controlled by the Chinese military. Hikvision has vehemently denied the claim.
According to a report in the Intercept last year, there were more than 1.2 million Hikvision cameras in the UK. The Guardian contacted the councils that use Hikvision cameras for comment, but only Guildford council responded.
“We do currently use those cameras in the area,” a spokesperson said, “but we were not aware of these claims at the time of procurement.”
One client of David Lloyd’s gym in Finchley, north London, who declined to be identified because he needs to travel to China for work and is concerned about retaliation, said he noticed Hikvision thermal cameras had recently been installed in what he assumed was part of the
“I was rather surprised to see this, having known Hikvision for some time and knowing of their involvement in the mass internment of over a million members of the Uighur ethnic minority in Xinjiang,” the person said.
One of the gym’s clients stated that he informed management of his concerns about the “ethics of their procurement and tacit support for a company implicated in human rights violations.” He claimed that the gym later informed him that they had raised the issue with the “head office,” who allegedly stated that they had “no issues” using it because its use is legal in the UK.
David Lloyd Leisure did not respond to questions about the use of Hikvision cameras or its clients’ concerns.
“As a matter of policy, we never comment on specific systems, safety measures, or individual suppliers,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement. The group was “committed to the health and safety of our members and our team,” according to the person, and it had put “a number of systems in place that have been introduced or upgraded in order to ensure we are Covid-19 compliant, all of which meet or exceed stated UK standards and current legislation.”
The organisation declined to comment on whether its use of Hikvision cameras was in accordance with the principles of its anti-slavery pledge in 2019, in which the company stated that it has a “zero-tolerance approach” to modern slavery and is “committed to acting ethically and with integrity in
Hikvision stated that it takes reports of human rights violations “very seriously” and “acknowledges our responsibility to protect people.”
“We have been working with the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States to clear up misconceptions about the company and address their concerns. Hikvision has “consistently focused on technology leadership, customer service, and cybersecurity standards that are compliant with the most rigorous certifications and best practises,” according to the company.
In response to US concerns about Hikvision being used by Chinese intelligence, the company stated, “Hikvision’s cybersecurity standards are compliant with the most rigorous certifications.” To make our products more secure, the company collaborated with governments in the United States and the United Kingdom. ”
The widespread use of the cameras, according to Samuel Woodhams, a digital rights researcher at the London-based internet research firm Top10VPN, could lead to the introduction of even more advanced surveillance technologies, such as thermal imaging and facial recognition cameras.
“Hikvision, along with other contentious surveillance firms, appear to be attempting to profit from the pandemic and expand their reach within the UK. “It is important for public officials and businesses to remember that once increased surveillance measures are implemented, they are difficult to reverse, and the damage done to citizens’ individual liberties can be long-lasting,” Woodhams said.