The company behind the world’s most intrusive surveillance networks has supplied more than 150 CCTV cameras to councils in south Essex for use in their premises.

An investigation by the Local Democracy Reporting Service has uncovered how thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being used by councils to purchase surveillance cameras that have been manufactured by the Chinese firm Hikvision.

The security firm has been criticised for helping establish an oppressive surveillance state in parts of China and Tibet, leading to more than a million people being detained, allegedly due to their ethnicity or political views.

The company is also rumoured to have deep ties to the Chinese government, leading to concerns about privacy and security that are so serious that the US and Australia has placed strict restrictions on the use of the technology.

Freedom of Information results revealed councils are using more than 155 cameras made by Hikvision.

Southend Council has purchased 79, Thurrock Council has 56, including several which can automatically track movement, and Essex County Council has 20.

In all these cases, the cameras are inside local government buildings.
Southend and the county council said they are unable to confirm how much they have paid for the cameras but Thurrock said that between 2015 and 2018, £9,690 had been spent.

It is likely there are many more across the county, including in Basildon where the council refused to disclose any information about the cameras they have purchased due to fears they could be “intercepted”.

Matteo Mecacci, president of the advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet, said: “Leaders in other countries are concerned about Hikvision in part because it poses a threat to national security.

“As a company controlled by the Chinese government, which is not bound by the rule of law and does not protect the privacy of any of its citizens, Hikvision is objectively a danger to people in free societies like ours.

“It is simply too risky to trust Hikvision to record our public spaces without violating the information security of people in those spaces.

“As China’s national intelligence law forces all Chinese companies to co-operate with the Government, there is no legal protection that sensitive data collected abroad by Chinese companies won’t be shared with Beijing, and this should scare all of us.”

Charles Rollet, who works with the surveillance information group IPVM also compared concerns about Hikvision to those raised about Chinese telecoms giant Huawei.

He said: “Unlike Huawei, whose ownership remains murky, Hikvision’s relationship is much more direct. Hikvision’s parent company is the China Electronics Technology Group, a state-owned Chinese defence conglomerate.

“The chairman himself is a government official, serving as a deputy to the National People’s Congress.”

Hikvision did not respond to a request for comment but in a public statement released this month, the company said it takes concerns about human rights “very seriously”.

Southend Council promises to get up to date advice on cameras

SOUTHEND Council has promised to get “up to date” advice on using Hikvision security cameras.

Tory council leader Tony Cox said: “As a council we follow the expert advice of the security services and comply with all relevant legislation when it comes to the installing of any CCTV cameras in our town.

“I condemn China’s treatment of the Tibetan people - no one should have to live in a police state.

“As concerns have been raised in relation to the security cameras, which serve as a valuable tool in tackling anti-social behaviour and crime in our town, we will continue to seek up to date advice in relation to Hikvision and their continued use”.

The chairman of Southend’s Labour Group, councillor Matt Dent, has called for a review of the policy.

He said: “It casts doubt over the council’s due diligence when it is contracting these things out, particularly with something as important as CCTV.

“The security and human rights concerns inherent in this are too serious and worrying to ignore and I would like to see what consideration was given to this - the worrying possibility is that there wasn’t any.”

A spokesman for the council said: “The procurement process is thorough and professional and includes stringent research of each viable option before signing any contracts.

“Whilst costing is a part of the procurement process, this is not the key part of procuring, as we will always ensure that the company we select offers the best service for our residents.

“Ongoing investigations into Hikvision mean we are continuously monitoring the current situation.”

The spokesman continued: “We are currently checking the technical configuration and security standards of the existing cameras to further test the quality, safety and security of the existing cameras.”

Essex County Council and Thurrock Council were asked to comment on this issue but neither have responded.

It is alleged the same types of cameras are used in Tibet and Xinjiang to oppress parts of the population.