Councils' CCTV cameras from China spark fears over privacy and national security
PUBLISHED: 16:45 28 May 2019 | UPDATED: 14:33 30 May 2019
A Chinese surveillance company which may be blacklisted by the US has supplied more than 150 CCTV cameras inside local government buildings across Essex .
An investigation, led by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, reveals that thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money is being spent on cameras from Chinese company Hikvision.
The US Government is reportedly considering barring Hikvision from purchasing US technology.
Hikvision is believed to have ties to the Chinese government, and there have been claims its equipment is used in Muslim detention camps in Xinjiang.
Hikvision did not respond to a request for comment but, in a public statement released earlier this month, a spokesman said the firm takes human rights concerns "very seriously".
A Freedom of Information request has revealed Southend Council has bought 79 of the cameras, Thurrock Council has 56, including some that can automatically track movement, while Essex County Council has 20.
In every case, the cameras are located inside government buildings.
Matteo Mecacci, president of advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet, claimed it was "too risky" to allow the firm to record our public spaces.
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He claimed that leaders in other countries are concerned about the company, arguing that in his view it "poses a threat to national security".
He also called the company "a danger to people in free societies like ours", arguing that it is not bound by the same laws as countries like the UK.
"It is simply too risky to trust Hikvision to record our public spaces without violating the information security of people in those spaces," he claimed.
Southend Council leader Tony Cox said the council follows expert advice to comply with relevant legislation surrounding the installation of CCTV and condemned the treatment of the Tibetan people by China.
He said CCTV acted as a valuable tool for tackling anti-social behaviour but added the council would continue to seek up-to-date advice on the continued use of Hikvision cameras.
A spokesman for Essex County Council said: "The council, when it commissions its contractors (as it did in this case) to procure equipment, applies a range of criteria including value for money in assessing options.
"It is important to note that in this case, no surveillance/CCTV cameras were procured directly from Hikvision.
"The Council would be mindful of questions being raised in parliament regarding any potential supplier.
"CCTV systems are utilised for the safety and security of building users ONLY, and data is managed within the legislative guidelines governing to this."
Thurrock Council was asked to comment but did not respond.