Public Procurement Bill could lead to more ethical choices

Concerns raised about high level of Chinese-made CCTV in the UK

Avigilon Camera PhotoAvigilon Camera Photo

The Public Procurement Bill is currently being scrutinised in the House of Lords after it was introduced into Parliament in July. This Bill is seen as crucial by those looking for a more consistent and ethical approach to purchasing products and services, which could include CCTV, by local authorities, government departments and other public bodies. This also comes amid increasingly vocal concern about the impact of the high level of Chinese-manufactured CCTV installed throughout the UK.

Concerns about Chinese-made CCTV in the UK

Over the past year campaign groups and MPs have called on the UK to ban major Chinese CCTV camera manufacturers Hikvision and Dahua in the UK. There are concerns about the high level of ownership of these companies by the Chinese communist state and the alleged involvement in surveillance of human rights abuses, centred around the treatment of the Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China.

As noted in previous blogs, the large-scale use of Chinese-manufactured CCTV surveillance by UK public bodies has been revealed by several studies which has meant this issue is the focus of pressure groups. It has also been highlighted by the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner (BSCC), Fraser Sampson over the past 18 months.

Research by Big Brother Watch earlier this year found that three out of every five of the 1,300 public bodies who responded to its requests for information said they have equipment made by Hikvision and Dahua, adding up to almost 800 public bodies confirmed as actively using their cameras. Its report suggests that 60% of state schools, over half of all NHS trusts and 31% of police forces are using Hikvision or Dahua cameras.

These findings led to 67 cross-party MPs and members of the House of Lords, along with Big Brother Watch and other campaign groups, René Cassin Stop Uyghur Genocide, Free Tibet and Hong Kong Watch to call on the government to ban the sale of Hikvision and Dahua CCTV cameras in this country.

The pledge they signed this summer stated: “”We call for a ban on the sale and operation of Hikvision and Dahua surveillance equipment in the UK and condemn their involvement in technology-enabled human rights abuses in China. We call on the Government to commission an independent national review of the scale, capabilities, ethics and rights impact of modern CCTV in the UK.”

Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner raises concerns with Ministers

CCTV cameras manufactured by Hikvision and Dahua are also used within central government departments and while there has been reports that future procurement might be stopped this has not been publicly confirmed.

In April the BSCC wrote to Michael Gove MP, then and recently reappointed as, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and to Michael Ellis MP, then Minister for the Cabinet Office expressing his concern about the ethical and human rights issues surrounding public procurement of surveillance technology from Chinese companies associated with human rights abuses and state-controlled surveillance.

This came after reports that the Ministry of Justice had issued guidance banning Hikvision installations and that Sajid Javid, then Secretary of State for Health and Social Care had prohibited any further procurement of Hikvision surveillance technology in that department.

The Surveillance Camera Commissioner writes to manufacturers

Fraser Sampson wrote to Justin Hollis, Marketing Director, Hikvision UK & Ireland following its response to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee’s report, “The UK’s Responsibility to Act on Atrocities in Xinjiang and Beyond,” published in July 2021 which had recommended a ban on Hikvision.

The BSCC asked Hollis if Hikvision accepted that the atrocities described in the report were taking place and to clarify the extent of any involvement the company has had in those camps. Separately the BSCC has asked similar questions of Dahua.

According to Fraser Sampson he is yet to receive a clear answer from Hikvision. In a letter he received last year the company said that: “As a global enterprise and manufacturer, we believe Hikvision is not a competent arbiter to decide on this matter.”

The company said that Fraser Sampson could meet and they would provide information relating to their activities in China. This followed an investigation on the company’s business in Xinjiang and its human rights compliance since January 2019 which was conducted by the former US Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper.

However, Hikvision said that no information provided could be publicly disclosed by the BSCC, which did not satisfy him. The controversy meant that neither Hikvision or Fraser Sampson attended the annual conference of the CCTV Users Group this year. This group represents the professionals who are involved in the surveillance of public spaces and its members are from organisations that are bound by the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice, which the BSCC encourages compliance with.

Following the amendment of the Code at the start of the year to reflect recent legal developments, Fraser Sampson encouraged the relevant authorities that are bound by the Code to make ethical considerations in their procurement.

Role of the Public Procurement Bill

In a letter to the Conservative MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who is a known critic of the Chinese regime, Fraser Sampson commented on the risk of Chinese CCTV manufacturers being so dominant in the UK market saying, ““From my perspective as Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner the matter can be simplified to one of trust…. As almost all of the technological capability for biometric surveillance is privately owned, the only way we will as a nation be able to harness the many legitimate uses of that technology in the future is in trusted partnership with trusted private sector partners.

“In short, the people we trust – the police, fire and rescue, local authorities and the government itself – must be able to trust their technology partners, both in terms of security and of our shared ethical and professional values.  And the publicly available evidence tells me that some of these companies – notably Hikvision and Dahua – simply cannot be trusted.”

He highlighted their reported involvement in the treatment of the Uyghur Muslims and because of the failure to publicly engage with concerns expressed about this.

The BSCC added, “I have been assured by ministers that these issues will be addressed in the Public Procurement Bill currently before Parliament and it is my sincere hope that any subsequent legislation will be sufficiently comprehensive, not just to address the letting of new public surveillance contracts, but also to reinforce the fidelity of our country’s critical surveillance infrastructure in its entirety.”

US action already taken against HikVision and Dahua

Meanwhile US concerns about possible Chinese-state ownership of companies and that its technology was being taken to China had already led to the National Defense Authorization Act which came into effect in 2019. HikVision, Dahua Technology and its subsidiary Lorex, were subsequently among the Chinese-owned technology companies named on the US government’s Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security, Export Administration Regulations Entity List. The US government’s regulations stop the companies exporting, re-exporting products and technology from the US or transferring any technologies within the US to a foreign person.

Due to these developments in the US in 2019 HikVision and Dahua Technology were also removed as full members of ONVIF* the global CCTV camera industry body which aims to standardise IP-based products. The ONVIF restrictions mean that the companies cannot access the group’s online member portal, have access on any new ONVIF software or participate in any of its committees.

We can offer high quality alternatives to Chinese-manufactured CCTV

For those running public services and looking to install or upgrade CCTV systems there are other options available, which would address the BSCC’s concerns, and pre-empt proposed changes in the law in the Public Procurement Bill.

Our primary CCTV partner is the North American manufacturer, Avigilon which is part of Motorola Solutions. Avigilon is an ONVIF member and has committed to build its solutions on an open platform, giving users the flexibility to make the most of their existing resources and investments. We have always believed in providing the highest quality security solutions, that also meet the data protection requirements for CCTV systems, and take the time to look at the options available which is why we have been partnered with Avigilon for the long term. Choosing better quality solutions can pay off in the long term as, we believe, procurement should be about long-term value as opposed to the immediate price. It is also often difficult to compare prices directly so ensuring you know all the facts about solution, and the installer, is important.

We are NSI Gold accredited as well as IASME Governance Standard and Cyber Essentials Certified. This demonstrates to customers not only do we install CCTV of the highest quality to the best standard we also have a high level of cyber security; are taking good steps to properly protect our customers’ information and thus are meeting the latest data protection rules. We also offer our customers the cloud-based CCTV Logbook which provides CCTV asset management, document storage and CCTV maintenance review scheduling. Additionally, the compliance package provides a step-by-step guide to fulfilling the requirements of the 12 Guiding Principles of the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice.

If you are a public sector organisation that would like support to select a CCTV solution, and pre-empt changes that could result from the Public Procurement Bill, we would be delighted to talk through all the options we can offer so please get in touch.

 

*The Open Network Video Interface forum (ONVIF), aims to standardise how IP products within the video surveillance industry communicate with each other. If you are buying a new camera always make sure it is ONVIF compliant as it will ensure that it can be used with third-party devices and that your cameras can be used for longer even if you upgrade your system at a later date.