Hikvision Surveillance Cameras & UK Councils
The proliferation of video surveillance cameras manufactured by controversial Chinese firms Hikvision and Dahua in public spaces poses significant privacy risks to citizens around the world.
Our objective with this investigation is to determine the extent to which local authorities in the UK have exposed their residents to these risks by installing IP camera network equipment from the two firms.
Not only are Hikvision and Dahua subject to major privacy concerns due being part-owned by the Chinese state but they also have a poor track record for cybersecurity, such as the critical vulnerability that allowed Hikvision devices to be hijacked remotely without requiring log-in credentials.
We sent FOI requests to all 32 London borough councils and the next 20 largest UK city councils asking for information regarding their video surveillance networks.
Of the 43 requests that were successful, 28 (65%) disclosed that they owned technology made by Hikvision. The surveillance firm has been accused of being “deeply implicated in the crackdown on Uyghurs in Xinjiang.”
Seven local authorities also disclosed they had technology made by Dahua, which has faced allegations of manufacturing facial recognition technology designed to track Uyghurs.
Both companies face strict trade restrictions in the U.S. due to their alleged role in Xinjiang.
Although the exact number of devices was often not revealed by the councils, our research suggests that millions of pounds of taxpayer funds have been spent on Hikvision and Dahua’s products. Hammersmith & Fulham Council alone disclosed that it owns 1,790 Hikvision cameras.
Public records show Hammersmith & Fulham Council had a contract worth £492,000 with Chroma Vision Limited between 2015 and 2020. Chroma Vision provided Hikvision technology to the council in their capacity as System Integrator during an extensive CCTV overhaul project, according to Hikvision. It’s unlikely, however, that the total value of the contract was for Hikvision’s products alone.
Local authorities have not just bought cameras from the companies. Eleven of the councils also confirmed they owned Digital Video Recorders (DVRs), Network Video Recorders (NVR) and other hardware made by Hikvision.
It is probable some of the NVRs are capable of facial recognition. However, no council confirmed it had used the technology for this purpose. The two facial recognition trials that were confirmed by Waltham Forest and Hillingdon Councils were not linked to Hikvision or Dahua.
Several authorities stated they had plans to replace their Hikvision technology. Camden Council even said that “it is against the Council policy to have assets from Hikvision, Dahua and Huawei,” although they acknowledged a Hikvision DVR was currently in operation.
Wandsworth Council said it was in the process of upgrading its surveillance infrastructure, which currently includes technology produced by Hikvision. “The Council are replacing all its cameras across the borough with an IP network. The system will be supplied by Dahua,” the council said.
Despite the risks to British citizens’ privacy and the controversies surrounding the companies, Hikvision and Dahua’s products still constitute a fundamental part of the UK’s surveillance infrastructure.
In December 2020, we detected over 100,000 active surveillance networks made by Hikvision and Dahua in the UK. The findings of this investigation show that local authorities are responsible, at least in part, for the companies’ huge presence in the UK.