Scores of MPs and peers from across the political spectrum have called on Boris Johnson to ban on ethical grounds the sale and use of surveillance equipment in the UK from two Chinese companies, Hikvision and Dahua.
The 67 signatories range from rightwing Tory MPs Steve Baker and David Davis, through Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey to left-wingers including former shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Green MP Caroline Lucas.
Hikvision and Dahua have both been blacklisted by the US over Beijing’s use of their equipment in the repression of Uyghur Muslims in China.
In July last year the House of Commons foreign affairs select committee published a report calling for a nationwide ban on both companies’ equipment.
“Cameras made by the Chinese firm Hikvision have been deployed throughout Xinjiang, and provide the primary camera technology used in the internment camps,” the report said.
There is no evidence yet of the Chinese state using these companies to gather data abroad. The companies do not operate the cameras that are sold in the UK.
Research by campaign group Big Brother Watch, which co-ordinated Monday’s petition, suggests that many schools and councils across the UK have been using CCTV cameras made by the companies.
Freedom of information requests by the group have established that 73 per cent of UK councils use CCTV cameras made by the two businesses, along with 57 per cent of secondary schools and 60 per cent of NHS trusts. The group has also established that several government departments use Hikvision cameras.
That is despite formal advice from the Cabinet Office that UK companies should “consider the ethical implications of engaging with China on emerging technologies” given concerns about Beijing’s use of facial recognition and predictive computer algorithms for mass surveillance.
Davis, a former Brexit secretary, said he had long campaigned against the “worrying creep” of the surveillance state.
“The US has already blacklisted the companies. We need to be in step with our international partners, and should also look to ban invasive and oppressive technology from these firms,” he said.
The FT reported last year that UK intelligence agencies were increasingly anxious about councils’ use of the Chinese technology amid concerns that Beijing could use the footage for espionage, surveillance or collection of sensitive data.
The British authorities have become more wary about Chinese technology in recent years, banning the use of Huawei kit in the new 5G telecoms networks.
Fraser Sampson, Britain’s biometrics and surveillance camera commissioner, said on Monday that people needed to be able to trust their surveillance partners.
“That means acknowledgment of, and assumption of responsibility for, actions, decisions, and their consequences and a willingness to engage in public scrutiny. Hikvision and Dahua have not come close to this expectation in my view,” said Sampson.
“We’re now at a moment where most people would agree there’s a duty to act.”
The 67 politicians on Monday called on a ban on the sale and operation of surveillance equipment in the UK by both Hikvision and Dahua as well as a wider national review of CCTV use across the country.
Big Brother Watch is trying to persuade the government to accept an amendment to a procurement bill going through parliament this month that would block suppliers where there are concerns over human rights.
“It is horrifying that companies that provide the technological infrastructure for Beijing’s crimes against humanity provide cameras to 61 per cent of public bodies in the UK,” said Jake Hurfurt, BBW’s head of research.
A Hikvision spokesperson said it was “proud” of how it had worked with government bodies to tackle crime and terrorism.
“The UK also has fringe groups who would like to see a massive reduction of CCTV in the UK who are willing to throw allegations around about CCTV, and who would lie to demonise Hikvision.”
Dahua has previously said it follows all applicable local, national and international laws and would never develop solutions targeting any specific ethnic group.
The Chinese government holds that its activities in Xinjiang are “counter-terrorism” measures and that its mass internment facilities are for “re-education”.