Schools, councils, police forces and government departments are using Chinese surveillance cameras linked to the repression of Uighurs, data shared with The Times shows.
Hikvision and Dahua, both Chinese state-owned companies, have been blacklisted in the US after authorities ruled they pose threats to national security. British officials and rights campaigners say they provide the “technological infrastructure” for the oppression of Muslim Uighurs in China.
Thousands of public institutions in Britain are thought to have installed the companies’ cameras on buildings, which watch school pupils, government workers and members of the public. Many of the devices have advanced surveillance capabilities including facial, gender and behaviour detection, raising alarm among privacy advocates.
Data obtained by civil liberties campaigners at Big Brother Watch through freedom of information requests suggests that more than half of secondary schools in England use Hikvision or Dahua cameras, with 386 of 676 respondents saying they were installed.
One school in the East Riding of Yorkshire said its Hikvision cameras were capable of facial recognition, person tracking, clothing colour searching, and hair colour and length detection. It added that the CCTV units could also identify “fights occurring”.
A school in Brent, northwest London, said its China-made cameras “are capable of detecting gender and clothing”. A school in Surrey said its surveillance system had object and demographic detection.
A total of 251 local authorities — about 75 per cent of respondents — admitted to having the technology.
Tower Hamlets council in east London, which will be home to the new Chinese embassy, bucked the trend and said it had banned the equipment.
The Metropolitan Police is among 15 police forces found to use Hikvision and Dahua cameras, and 35 hospitals and 49 universities also had surveillance systems supplied by them. One hospital has a face-detecting Hikvision camera at its A&E entrance.
The Ministry of Justice, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health and Social Care admitted using tech from the companies.
Hikvision is the main vendor to police agencies in Xinjiang, where it is estimated that more than a million Uighurs have been detained. China denies that abuse takes place and says its camps provide vocational training and help fight extremism.
The Commons foreign affairs committee has demanded that the government ban Hikvision and Dahua. This was refused.
MPs on the committee said that British institutions should be prevented from “doing business with any companies known to be associated with the Xinjiang atrocities”.
The UK government did not support this recommendation and, when asked by The Times whether the widespread use of the equipment was appropriate, said it would not discuss security arrangements.
The Times understands that UK officials are aware of a number of Chinese technology companies linked to violations taking place in Xinjiang, amid growing diplomatic tensions between the two countries, and are “monitoring the situation closely”.
The Department of for Education does not issue guidance for schools about which surveillance systems to use, with head teachers expected to make the decisions themselves.
Jake Hurfurt, head of research and investigations at Big Brother Watch, said: “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. The widespread use of Hikvision and Dahua CCTV in the UK is creating a dystopian surveillance state that poses serious rights and security risks to the British public, whilst indirectly supporting China’s persecution of ethnic minorities.”
John Jones, the campaigns, policy and research manager for Free Tibet, which helped compile the data, said: “There’s a pipeline from UK taxpayers, to their public bodies, to Hikvision, to the CCP, and finally to brutal oppression. We need to cut that pipeline off at the source. People living under the rule of the Chinese government face constant state surveillance which is enabled by the likes of Hikvision and Dahua.”
Hikvision said: “Hikvision is committed to upholding the right to privacy and protecting people and property.”
A government spokesman said: “We take the security of our citizens, systems and establishments very seriously and have measures to scrutinise the integrity of our arrangements.”