Half of London Councils Use Chinese Surveillance Equipment Linked to Persecution of Uighurs

TOPSHOT - Protesters attend a rally in Hong Kong on December 22, 2019 to show support for the Uighur minority in China. - ong Kong riot police broke up a rally in solidarity with China's Uighurs on December 22 as the city's pro-democracy movement likened their plight to that of …
DALE DE LA REY/AFP via Getty Images

Half of the borough councils in London use surveillance equipment linked to technology used by the Chinese Communist Party in the oppression and persecution of the Uighurs.

Data obtained from a freedom of information request given to the Thomson Reuters Foundation revealed that at least half of London’s 32 local governing bodies were using surveillance systems from two Chinese companies, Hikvision and Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co Ltd, which produce facial recognition technologies. Both firms are currently subject to restrictions in the United States.

Hikvision provides video surveillance systems to police in Xinjiang, home to the Uighurs, where an estimated one to three million of the Muslim minority group are believed to be detained in the province’s more than 1,000 concentration camps.

Digital rights researcher Samuel Woodhams, who handed the data to the news organisation, said of the findings: “We’re getting a clearer picture of just how pervasive these firms’ technology is in the UK — and how frequently public funds are being used to acquire it.”

Hammersmith and Fulham, for example, have 1,790 Hikvision cameras at an estimated cost of £350,000 ($485,000).

Local governments are responsible for purchasing and deploying surveillance equipment on the public streets of Britain. Mr Woodhams sent requests to London’s 32 boroughs and the UK’s 20 largest councils, finding two-thirds, including 16 London boroughs, of the total had purchased surveillance equipment from Dahua or Hikvision. In 2016, Hikvision was found to be the UK’s top provider of CCTV equipment.

Three other national councils and six London boroughs did not respond to the FOI requests or claimed that they did not have the data, meaning that the true proportion of local governments in Britain’s capital which operates technology linked to the suppression of the Uighurs could be higher.

Camden in London said it had a policy against using certain Chinese-origin surveillance technology, but the FOI request revealed the borough was using video recorders made by Hikvision.

Councils were found to have bought cameras and other hardware, including recorders for storing data, but none said they were using either companies’ facial recognition technologies. However, owning other pieces of hardware means systems could be configured for facial recognition purposes, some councils admitted, with Mr Woodhams remarking: “Even if it’s (tech) not being used for the most intrusive capabilities at the moment, it wouldn’t be that much of a jump to do it.”

Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “It’s a problem for UK taxpayers to be funding firms that work hand in hand with the Chinese state, that do ethnic profiling, and enable what looks like ethnic cleansing … we can’t tolerate our own Chinese-built panopticon.”

Ms Carlo warned that while there is an assumption that CCTV cameras are just passive recording devices, “we have to acknowledge is that it’s increasingly active surveillance”, adding: “We’re talking about analysing footage, profiling people, processing data.”

Big Brother Watch added in a statement on social media: “Hikvision and Dahua CCTV has NO place in the UK — and banishing them should prompt a wider review of why the UK is one of the most widely and deeply CCTV-surveilled countries in the world.”

Meanwhile, The Sun revealed that the Transport for London (TfL) group, which runs the capital’s bus, tube, and some train services, has a pension scheme which invests in Chinese firms linked to Uighur persecution, including Alibaba and Tencent.

Alibaba, an Amazon-like online marketplace in China, produced a ‘Uighur Alert’ facial recognition system, while technology giant Tencent also reportedly developed a phone app which singles out the minority group.

Shaun Bailey, the Conservative contender for mayor of London, told The Sun that it was “deeply upsetting that Sadiq Khan has allowed TfL’s pension fund to invest in companies that aid China’s human rights abuses.

“We cannot stand by while genocide is being committed in Xinjiang and freedoms are being crushed in Hong Kong.

“It’s time for Sadiq Khan to live up to his responsibilities.

“He must detwin London from Beijing and disinvest TfL’s pension fund from companies involved in these crimes.”

While London is not technically twinned with Beijing, it has partnered with global cities, including the Chinese capital and Shanghai.

Mayor Khan’s office said that it is not involved in the pensions scheme but has met with the Pension Fund, which is independent of the mayor’s office and TfL, to urge it to “fully consider” human rights when making investments.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.