Chinese cameras could spy on UK police on drones, Body Cams: Watchdog

  • A publicly named watchdog has warned that UK police are “targeted” by Chinese cameras.
  • He said British agencies were using Chinese-made systems and were aware of security concerns.
  • Its analytical survey included 35 areas of the police force, as well as bodies such as the Ministry of Defence.

UK police are making themselves vulnerable to spying from Chinese-made surveillance systems and camera parts in drones, helicopters and body cameras, an official watchdog has warned.

The Office of the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner said it had surveyed 35 police force areas in England and Wales, as well as the Ministry of Defense and other UK agencies about the use of surveillance systems.

Directors of those agencies received the survey in June 2022, it said in a Monday report.

At least 24 of those departments said they used indoor camera systems flagged by the report as having “ethical or security concerns” because they were at least partially made by Chinese companies.

Eighteen departments also use outdoor camera systems with similar problems, the report said.

And 23 of the response forces that use camera-equipped drones said they were aware of safety concerns about their drone maker – a Chinese company called DJI. The company was blacklisted by the US over concerns that Beijing might request information from the company under its intelligence laws.

“It is quite clear from this detailed analysis of the survey results that police property in the UK is littered with Chinese surveillance cameras,” said Commissioner Fraser Sampson. “It is also clear that forces using this equipment are generally aware that there are ethical and safety concerns about the companies that supply their kit.”

Sampson said police needed to convince the public that their surveillance systems were reliable and that the technology would be used legally and responsibly.

Several government agencies did not respond to the 2022 survey, although they have responded to similar surveys in previous years, Sampson said. They include the National Crime Agency and the City of London Police.

Sensitivity over Chinese spying threats has increased in the past two weeks after the US shot down a Chinese balloon it said was spying on North America. Since then, Washington has shot down three other objects, although it has not said whether they are linked to China.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Sunday that UK fighter jets were on standby to deal with similar surveillance threats.

But Sampson said the UK should be more concerned about camera systems on the ground rather than spy balloons. “I don’t understand why we are not so concerned about Chinese cameras 2 meters above our heads in the street and elsewhere,” he said.

The report also comes after the UK government banned Chinese-made CCTVs from classified premises in November.

The National Crime Agency, City of London Police, Ministry of Defense and the Office of the Commissioner for Biometrics and Surveillance Cameras did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.

DJI and the Chinese embassy in London also did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.

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