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Edinburgh council to tear down CCTV cameras linked to Chinese human rights abuse

Edinburgh council has agreed to remove CCTV cameras that are being used across the capital after it was revealed that the company they belong to have links to human rights abuses in China.

By Jacob Farr

October 28, 2022

Surveillance camera with unidentified walking elderly people in the background in London (Image: Getty Images.)

Questions have been raised over the use of CCTV surveillance systems linked with human rights abuses to China in the capital.

Officials at the City of Edinburgh Council say they are committed to eradicating CCTV cameras purchased from a widely criticised company, HikVision. But the local authority admits that they are unaware as to just how many thousands of the cameras are being used across the city.

A freedom of information request by the Scottish Liberal Democrats earlier this year showed that Edinburgh council was among 12 local authorities in Scotland to be using the technology. It has been widely reported that HikVision supplied between 300 to 400 of the detention centres holding Uighur Muslims against their will in Xinjiang China.

The US government decided to sanction HikVision in 2019 over concerns that they were assisting the Chinese government in abusing Uighur human rights. Earlier this summer, UK MP’s had also raised concerns over the use of HikVision across the UK.

Councillor Lewis Younie raised the issue at yesterday's (Thursday 27) full council meeting where he asked for confirmation that CCTV cameras, supplied by HikVision, would be removed. He also asked for a timetable on the removal of the questionable surveillance systems.

He tabled the below statement and question to the city council, saying: “There have been references in media that many councils in Scotland including Edinburgh are utilising CCTV cameras supplied by HikVision, which are linked to human rights abuses in the People’s Republic of China.

“There are also reports that these cameras are being removed in Edinburgh. To ask the Leader of the Council: Can he confirm that the cameras are being removed? Can he provide a timetable for their removal? Can he provide updates when each action on said timetable is completed?”

The campaign organisation Big Brother Watch states that there is widespread use of the technology across public sector bodies within the UK. They have started a petition to ban the use of the tech due to its link with the abuse of Uighur Muslims.

They say that: “These companies have thousands of cameras in schools, hospitals and on high streets across the UK. They are violating human rights abroad and must be banned in the UK.”

Edinburgh City Council have agreed to the removal of HikVision technology within the ‘public realm network’ but say that it is not yet known when the thousands of cameras will be removed from council buildings. They also state that a survey is currently being carried out to determine exactly how many HikVision cameras are in use by the council.

In response to councillor Younie, Edinburgh City Council answered: “Following completion of the public realm CCTV upgrade project, there will be no HikVision cameras present on the public realm network.

“However, there are more than 1,300 cameras which cover council buildings. The exact number of HikVision units is not currently captured but a survey is being carried out which will identify this for the Council.

“As units are being upgraded or repaired, they are being replaced with compliant equipment, in accordance with UK Government guidelines. The public realm project is due to be completed by February 2023.

“This includes replacement of old hardware including any analogue HikVision equipment. For Council buildings, it is not possible to provide a timetable for removal at this point.

“I have asked officers to update Culture and Communities Committee on the public realm project is completed. On completion of the survey of Council buildings, the total number of HikVision units will be reported to Finance and Resources Committee.”

A spokesperson for HikVision said: "CCTV has always played a critical role in the fight against crime. As a manufacturer of video security products and solutions, Hikvision is proud of the role we play in that. Our products are used across the UK to keep people safe.

“Hikvision takes human rights seriously. Our cameras are compliant with the applicable rules and regulations of the countries we operate in and are subject to strict security requirements. Hikvision has never knowingly or intentionally committed human rights abuses itself or acted in wilful disregard and will never do so in the future."

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