body worn police camera

Broad use of Chinese-made cameras by police forces ‘presents security risk’

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Police forces in the UK are “shot through” with Chinese camera technology which potentially represents a security risk, a watchdog has warned.

The Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner (OBSCC) conducted a survey last year, which targeted all 43 police force areas in England and Wales, about their use of public surveillance camera systems including on drones and helicopters, body-worn video, ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) and other systems.

Of the 39 responses it received, at least 18 said their external camera systems use equipment that has been associated with security or ethical concerns, including from manufacturers Dahua, Hikvision, Honeywell and Huawei, and Nuuo. This increased to 24 when considering internal camera systems.

Twenty-three of the 31 respondents who operate cameras on drones said they were aware of security or ethical concerns about the manufacturer, Chinese company, DJI.

UK police data reportedly showed at least 230 of the 337 drones operated by 37 police forces are supplied by DJI, according to data obtained under freedom of information laws. Some forces refused to reveal the companies providing their drones.

Concerns about Chinese-made hardware have been ramping up in recent years, with government departments being ordered to stop installing surveillance cameras made by firms subject to China’s national security law in November.

Officials were told to ensure that these systems were not connected to core networks and to consider immediately removing all existing equipment, without waiting for the scheduled updates.

UK telecom operators have also been told to remove Huawei-made equipment from core 5G infrastructure by the end of this year over espionage concerns.

“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 OBSCC commissioner Fraser 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 above our head in the street and elsewhere.

“Clearly it is vital sometimes that the police must be able to use intrusive surveillance technology in public places.

“But if they want the public to trust them to do so, they must be able to persuade us, not only that they are working partners and providers that can be trusted, but also that they will use the technology available to them lawfully, responsibly and according to a set of clear agreed principles.”

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