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US bans Chinese company behind 1.3m UK CCTV cameras over spying allegations

Hasan Chowdhury
Hikvision has faced criticism for installing cameras in Xinjiang, where the Communist Party has ramped up efforts to monitor Uighur Muslims.  - REUTERS

A Chinese CCTV firm with over one million cameras in Britain has been blacklisted by US President Donald Trump for allegedly spying on persecuted Muslim minorities.

Hikvision is under fire for installing cameras in the Chinese autonomous region of Xianjiang, where the Communist Party has ramped up efforts to monitor the majority population of Uighur Muslims and is accused of throwing them in political prisons dubbed "re-education camps".

The $42bn (£34bn) Shenzhen-listed video surveillance firm has an estimated 1.3m cameras in Britain and its devices are widely used by councils, airports and NHS trusts.

It was one of 28 organisations added to a White House list of banned entities as President Trump doubled down on his trade war with China ahead of talks between the pair later this week. 

The move has raised concerns about Hikvision’s foothold in the UK. Freedom of information requests have previously revealed that Hikvision’s technology has been deployed at councils in Nottingham and Hertfordshire, the Royal Cornwall Hospitals, North East Ambulance Service and police forces.

Matthew Henderson, director of the Asia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society, said: "It's reported that controlling shares in Hikvision are owned by the Chinese government. Their equipment is used in Xinjiang for government security purposes.

"Beijing acknowledges that using foreign video surveillance would be a risk to national security. This rather implies that the same would apply in the UK if we use Chinese equipment here." 

In the banned

The ban follows similar moves made against Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, and will see the 28 organisations banned from buying components from US companies without first seeking approval from the US government.

America's blacklist includes 20 government organisations and eight technology firms. Another among them is surveillance cameras and drone maker Dahua Technology.

It also has a significant presence in the UK, with a number of CCTV installations making use of Dahua’s equipment. Last year Lincoln’s city council installed more than 300 Dahua cameras across the city. 

The company’s cameras have proven to be vulnerable in the past, with hackers gaining access to what they were recording in 2017.

The move from the US, which also struck China’s leading artificial intelligence companies Sense Time and Megvii Technology, drew sharp criticism from Beijing, as a foreign ministry spokesman told the US to “stop interfering” with internal affairs signalled that China would strike back. 

Washington’s strategy had a ripple effect on global markets, as investors braced for the impact on wider supply chains.

It contributed to a fall in the Dow Jones index, which was trading down 0.6pc on Tuesday evening. Hikvision and Dahua, which both suspended trading on Tuesday, depend on critical components for their technology from US firms such as Intel and Nvidia. 

Hikvision and Dahua did not immediately respond to a request for comment.