Security fears have been sparked after it was discovered that a major GCHQ building is using a significant number of Chinese-made CCTV cameras, prompting concerns over Chinese access to the footage. Channel 4 News has revealed the Manchester office of GCHQ has nine Hikvision cameras on the exterior of the building.
Channel 4 said the revelation sparked the question: ‘who watches the watchers’.
The nine cameras were found at Heron House in central Manchester, which GCHQ describes as a “secure site in the North West.”
The broadcaster reported that security experts argue the use in any circumstance of Chinese-made security cameras should worry the Government.
The Beijing-based Hangzhou Digital Technology Company was blacklisted by the US Government in November 2022, along with Huawei and ZTE over “unacceptable” spying fears.
The US Government said it was banning the video surveillance equipment from the three companies in an effort to protect the nation’s communications network, saying the Chinese tech poses an “unacceptable risk to the national security” of the USA.
Britain has made no such move to ban the security camera technology, however.
Last year, Oliver Dowden – the current Deputy Prime Minister – announced a Government security review into the video surveillance equipment.
The review concluded that “additional controls are required” and it should be considered whether the CCTV equipment should be removed from “sensitive sites.”
Mr Dowden said that Government departments had been “instructed to cease deployment of such equipment onto sensitive sites, where it is produced by companies subject to the National Intelligence Law of the People’s Republic of China.”
China hawk Iain Duncan Smith described Channel 4’s revelation as “a big deal.”
He added: “I know that [GCHQ] will come back and say things like they’re not our buildings officially, they belong to the city centre, the council, but the truth is they are the number one most important security centre that we have.”
“GCHQ knows everything, and therefore they are hugely hugely relevant in this debate and they should not have those cameras.
“After all the security service themselves have said they shouldn’t have them, so it’s ironic that the senior part of the security services has them and that seems an absurdity to me.”
Madeleine Stone of Big Brother Watch said it is “staggering” that a GCHQ building has Hikvision cameras on its exterior.
“The Chinese Government has a law – the National Intelligence Law – that obliges Chinese businesses and citizens to assist the intelligence services in espionage, and of course that’s kept secret.”
In 2021 a report by the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee said that “Cameras made by the Chinese firm Hikvision have been deployed throughout Xinjiang, and provide the primary camera technology used in the internment camps.”
GCHQ told Channel 4 it “does not operate Hikvision products at any of its sites, including Heron House.”
“We have a range of measures in place to protect the security of our people, systems and sites, which for obvious reasons we will not describe in detail.”
Hikvision told Channel 4 News that technical analysis of Hikvision products “have never indicated they are a threat to the national security interests of the United Kingdom” and that the cameras are “compliant with the applicable rules and regulations of the countries we operate in and are subject to strict security requirements.”
They added that their company was “found in 2020 by an independent investigation to have never ‘knowingly engaged in human rights abuses or [to have] acted in wilful disregard’.”