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Commonwealth offices 'riddled' with security cameras linked to Chinese government

By political reporter Jake Evans

February 9, 2023

Hikvision and Dahua equipement is banned in the US and UK due to fears it contains spyware.(ABC News: Sam Ikin)

An audit has uncovered more than 900 units of surveillance equipment built by companies linked to the Chinese government within Commonwealth government buildings.

The government has been urged to rip out cameras and security gear made by Hikvision and Dahua in the wake of them being banned in the United States and United Kingdom due to fears they may contain spyware.

Shadow Cyber Security Minister James Paterson issued questions over six months to each federal agency, after the Home Affairs Department was unable to say how many of the cameras, access control systems or intercoms were installed in Commonwealth buildings.

He said the audit found the Commonwealth was "riddled" with the units, and some departments were unsure how many were present on their sites.

"We urgently need a plan from the Albanese government to rip every one of these devices out of Australian government departments and agencies," Senator Paterson said.

The Australian War Memorial and National Disability Insurance Agency have both already promised to remove cameras found at their sites.

Equipment uncovered in Attorney-General and Defence departments

The cameras and security gear were found in almost every department except Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Agriculture Department.

One hundred and ninety-five pieces of equipment were discovered at 29 sites within the Attorney-General's Department, however none of those were within the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

James Paterson says the government needs a plan to rip out potentially compromised cameras littered across Commonwealth sites.(ABC News)

The Australian Federal Police, which also sits under the Attorney-General's Department, could not confirm whether any cameras were found at its sites for operational security reasons.

Defence has admitted the total number of Hikvision and Dahua units that may be at its sites is unknown, though it has found at least one.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said his department was searching for other equipment, and if any was found it would be ripped out.

"This is an issue … we're doing an assessment of all the technology for surveillance within the defence estate, and where those particular cameras are found they're going to be removed," Mr Marles said.

"I don't think we should overstate [the seriousness], but it's a significant thing that's been brought to our attention and we're going to fix it."

He noted their installation pre-dated his time in office.

The number at Foreign Affairs Department sites was not disclosed, though it had identified at least 28 potentially affected sites.

One hundred and fifteen were also found in Treasury buildings and 112 in Finance buildings.

Under Chinese security laws passed in 2017 the state can compel any China-based organisation to hand over data it stores.

The same laws have caused concern with TikTok's data security.

Senator Paterson said both Hikvision and Dahua had been directly implicated in "shocking" human rights abuses and mass surveillance of Uyghur minorities in partnership with the Chinese Communist Party.

When the Australian government blocked Huawei and ZTE from accessing the national 5G network in 2018 over security concerns it triggered a deterioration in relations with China and a diplomatic deep freeze that lasted several years.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese dismissed questions about whether he was concerned the same would happen if Australia banned Hikvision and Dahua.

"We act in accordance with Australia's national interest," he said.

"We do so transparently. That’s what we’ll continue to do."


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