Government should discourage use of Chinese surveillance technology, report says

Commons foreign affairs committee warns the UK is over-reliant on Chinese technology designed for authoritarian ends

The government should work harder to discourage the use of Chinese-made technologies that can remotely collect data, including surveillance cameras made by Hikvision, the House of Commons foreign affairs committee has recommended. 

The committee said the government should publicise how data from technologies can be secretly extracted so the public are better informed about such risks. It should also identify technologies, infrastructure and components where the UK depends heavily on China and find ways to lessen this dependence, particularly in critical national infrastructure (CNI) and Internet of Things areas. It recommended that government create a central CNI list to improve work on co-ordination and clarify key areas. 

“With the technology sector now dominated by a few key players, we are now over-reliant on Chinese technology,” wrote the committee in a report on the government’s increased focus on the Indo-Pacific region. “This is the direct result of deliberate, carefully directed and well-co-ordinated CCP [Chinese Communist Party] policy to create dependence. We cannot overcome this dependence without an equally well-coordinated resilience strategy.” 

The report said that there is a risk that the UK becomes dependent on technologies and infrastructure that have been designed for authoritarian states, something that has also been outlined by the National Cyber Security Centre which warned this could undermine national abilities to project norms and values.  

The committee added that government attempts to identify CNI risks have been weakened by a lack of consistency. Despite the 2021 National Security and Investment Act listing 17 sensitive economic areas where company acquisitions should receive government scrutiny, there was no similar framework in the public procurement bill currently before Parliament, “despite the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party embedding technologies into the UK public sector”. The report said the government should harmonise procurement and acquisition security to make the public sector less vulnerable. 

In June, the BBC’s Panorama programme found that at least 11 Scottish councils were using Hikvision cameras which have a security vulnerability allowing hackers to access their output. An expert interviewed for the programme said this was a back door built by the manufacturer. 

PublicTechnology staff

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