Story by Nick Gutteridge, Dominic Penna
September 13, 2023
Data from Hikvision cameras can be compromised by Beijing, detractors allege - FRED DUFOUR/AFP via Getty Images© Provided by The Telegraph
Chinese surveillance technology will be banned from government buildings and military bases under new rules set to pass the Commons on Wednesday.
Downing Street will fire the starting gun on a sprint to remove cameras linked to Beijing from any site where sensitive information is held or discussed.
The new powers will enter into force after the Procurement Bill, which sets the buying rules for public bodies, clears its final parliamentary hurdle.
Its passage comes amid alarm at Westminster after a researcher was arrested on suspicion of spying for China. The man has denied the allegations. China-sceptic Tory MPs said the new rules, which they pressed No 10 into agreeing, would significantly bolster Britain’s defences against Beijing.
Under the changes Chinese technology will be banned from all buildings that are routinely used by ministers, including their Whitehall departments. Locations that are regularly used to discuss secret material will also be covered, including large military bases and public bodies with a security remit.
A government source said: “The progression of this Bill shows that this government is taking our national security seriously. In lockstep with colleagues, we have reached a position that they support and will protect our procurement regime from hostile actors and keep our nation safe.
“Actions speak louder than words and ministers are delivering on that.”
The powers cover any surveillance equipment which is produced by a company subject to Beijing’s repressive national intelligence law. That piece of legislation compels all Chinese companies to store all their data in the country and with the security service if asked.
Downing Street announced in June that work would begin on removing such technology from Whitehall in anticipation of the Procurement Bill passing.
It has now committed to updating Parliament every year on how many cameras have been taken down so that MPs can track progress.
The new legislation will also set up a new National Security Unit, which will vet companies supplying the Government to see if they pose a security risk.
Welcomed by Tory MPs
Tory MPs welcomed the toughening up of the law but pressed ministers to go even further by openly categorising China as a threat to the UK.
Alicia Kearns, chair of the foreign affairs committee, said it would end “the whack-a-mole approach to national security in our supply chains” and must “be urgently enacted”.
“Whether it’s our police forces using DJI drones, or local councils and sensitive sites using Hikvision CCTV, a public service is vulnerable if it is still procuring equipment that can be manipulated by a hostile state,” she said.
Richard Drax, a defence committee member, added: “The fact China is such an economic powerhouse should not prevent us calling the authoritarian state what it is – a threat.”
A separate row erupted on Tuesday after it emerged that Michelle Donelan, the Science and Technology Secretary, still has TikTok on a personal phone.
She defended her continued use of the China-linked social networking site, which has been banned from government devices over security concerns.
“You can’t do it on a government device because obviously there will be sensitive information on that, whereas that is not true of somebody’s personal phone,” she said.
Downing Street rowed in behind her and Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary who also still has the app, insisting they were “making sure it’s done in the correct way”.
Meanwhile a report by Lord Johnson, a former universities minister and the brother of ex prime minister Boris, warned UK universities are highly vulnerable to Beijing.
He warned that they have become “reliant on a very small number of markets” including China for vital foreign student cash and must diversify their global intake.
“The sector continues to follow a ‘cross your fingers’ strategy that decoupling is in the future never necessary for China, in the same ways it was for relations with Russia in February 2022,” he said.