MPs are seeking to ban Chinese companies from providing surveillance equipment to public entities in the UK, due to fears over espionage operations by Beijing. Tory leaders and cross-party support will propose amendments to the Government’s new public sector procurement law, which would enable British institutions to thoroughly vet the CCTV cameras, drones and other equipment provided by Chinese firms.
This follows a spate of controversies where Chinese-made products had been found in British government departments, local police forces, councils and even parts of the Royal estate. The proposed ban would target all companies under Beijing’s National Intelligence Law, a legislation that requires businesses to cooperate with China’s secret services in the exchange of information.
Alicia Kearns, Chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, wants to place these organisations into a ‘high risk’ list, which would require ministerial assessments for any contract signing. In November of 2020, conservative minister Oliver Dowden decreed that all offices and ministries be rid of any surveillance cameras from Chinese firms, however, investigations revealed they were still operating in sensitive sites such as Whitehall, government investments buildings, and Army bases. The Chinese surveillance giant, Hikvision denied any allegation of passing on footage to intelligence services, claiming to obey all the regulations in the UK.
Hikvision is a company that falls under the power of the Communist Party in China and US government have already barred them from all federal services. With facial recognition technology, it was found that they were operating in the sandringham estate, the place where the Royal Family stays, and gave rise to the call for urgent action.
Alicia Kearns stated: “This bill is a chance to protect our country from China’s techno-authoritarianism and efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to engineer our dependence on them, to weaken us at home and abroad — to fail to act now would be to fail to defend our people.”
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, former Tory leader, is championing the ban, and proposed to restrict any firm under Beijing’s National Intelligence Law from supplying surveillance equipment to the UK.
Hikvision is a video-surveillance company with offices in the US and Europe, covering facial recognition, video analytics and deep learning. Active in school and university campuses, Hikvision’s cameras are also installed in supermarkets, hospitals, airports and other public spaces. The Tianjin-based entity shipped out $7.5 billion (USD) worth of products in 2019 and it has encountered increased scrutiny since 2018 because of its military ties in China.
Alicia Kearns is the chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee from 2019. Born in Stevenage, England, she studied Politics at the University of Bath and was a policy advisor to Iain Duncan Smith MP during and after his time as a leader of the Conservative Party. She is a member of the Conservative Party in England and has specialized in Brexit and defense.