HomeBussinessSales of Chinese CCTV cameras surge despite UK security ban

Sales of Chinese CCTV cameras surge despite UK security ban

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A Chinese CCTV giant labelled a security risk by the Government more than doubled sales of its surveillance cameras in Britain last year despite an official ban at sensitive locations.

Hikvision’s sales to UK and Irish customers rose to £32.6m in 2023 – the first full year of the company’s cameras being banned from certain government sites.

Oliver Dowden, the deputy prime minister, announced 19 months ago that Chinese camera companies would be banned from high-risk government properties amid a string of security and human rights concerns.

However, departments have been given lengthy timelines to rip out the equipment and the order does not cover many public sites or the private sector. Hikvision’s cameras are commonplace in schools, hospitals and local councils.

Accounts for Hikvision UK Limited, which sells cameras directly to customers and provides technical support, rose 22pc to £50.8m. Direct sales from the company itself more than doubled from £14.8m to £32.6m.

The figures do not give the total scale of Hikvision’s UK business, since they do not cover sales by third parties reselling the company’s cameras, but indicate increasing demand for its equipment.

The figures come despite a string of high-profile British companies, including Tesco, Morrisons and Co-op, banning the company’s cameras.

Hikvision has been accused of human rights abuses owing to work for the Chinese government in Xinjiang, where persecution of the Uyghur minority has been widely documented. 

The company is the biggest CCTV maker in the world and its biggest shareholder is the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation. It has denied being complicit in abuses and says it takes human rights seriously.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader who has campaigned against the company, said the financials showed the need for a wider crackdown.

He said: “The Government should ban Hikvision from trading in the UK, the public has never had it explained how dangerous it is that they could have a whole map of your life. We seem to be so open to China.”

In November 2022, Mr Dowden said companies subject to China’s national security law would be banned from “sensitive” sites. 

In April, the Cabinet Office said just 50pc had been ripped out and that the deadline for completing removal was not until April 2025.

However, the requirement only applies to buildings with the most critical security requirements, including military and intelligence facilities, and does not cover buildings such as police stations. Despite this, a string of local councils have pledged to phase out Hikvision cameras.

The Department of Health banned the cameras, one of which caught former health secretary Matt Hancock’s affair, in 2022.

The company is on a US trade blacklist because of security concerns. However, they remain widely available on websites such as Amazon.

Andrew Elvish, the vice president of marketing at Genetec, a video software company that has warned of security risks associated with Hikvision, urged the next government to tighten controls on the cameras.

He said: “The UK faces a situation in which devices manufactured by Chinese state-controlled companies are banned in central government on national security grounds, yet continue to proliferate across critical national infrastructure, public spaces, hospitals and even schools. 

“That is neither sustainable nor wise given that Ken McCallum, head of MI5, recently stated that China was spying ‘on an epic scale’. I would encourage the UK’s next government to work as quickly as feasible to extend the scope of these restrictions to the point they can truly make a difference. 

“It really is in nobody’s best interest to adopt devices manufactured by state-owned companies that have a strategic interest in stealing data, intelligence, or intellectual property from our government, private businesses, and individuals.”

Demand for surveillance cameras in the UK has grown in recent months amid rising concerns over shoplifting.

Hikvision has said it is “categorically false” to label the company a national security threat, claiming it plays an important part in “protecting property and promoting public safety”. 

The company did not respond to a request for comment.

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