National security concerns raised over use of Chinese cameras at Leinster House

Surveillance cameras operated by Chinese state-backed Hikvision should be removed immediately over spying fears, says group

Photograph: Alan Betson, Irish Times Staff Photographer.
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 Leinster House
Photo taken on 28/3/07

National security concerns have been raised about the use of surveillance cameras at Government Buildings and Leinster House owned by a company controlled by the Chinese state.

Human rights group, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), and Green Party justice spokesman Patrick Costello TD have written to the Oireachtas raising concerns about the use of surveillance cameras made by Hikvision, the Chinese state-backed company.

Opposition leaders echoed these concerns this weekend.

The ICCL told the Houses of the Oireachtas commission in a letter this weekend that the cameras have been banned or removed in the UK, the US, Australia, Denmark, Scotland and the European Parliament and that investigations have found that the devices may be reporting back to locations in China, raising concerns that the cameras may be used to spy on behalf of China.

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Calling for the immediate removal of the cameras from Leinster House, the ICCL said this week the Australian government committed to removing Hikvision cameras from government buildings across the country acknowledging a security problem that needed to be addressed.

Denmark, the UK and the US have banned the use of the cameras and the European Parliament removed the cameras from use in 2021.

The company, in which the Chinese Communist Party is a controlling shareholder, is contracted to operate Chinese state surveillance of Uyghur Muslims.

The Irish Times has sought a comment from Hikvision on the concerns raised.

On Sunday opposition politicians backed the ICCL’s call for the removal of the cameras with Labour leader Ivana Bacik and Sinn Féin’s deputy leader Pearse Doherty saying that the Oireachtas should follow the example of the European Parliament.

“I think it’s a serious concern they have raised and if other parliaments have moved on, we should,” said Ms Bacik.

Mr Doherty said the reports about Hikvision were “concerning” and urged the Oireachtas commission to get “immediate and swift security advice” on the matter.

Minister for Justice Simon Harris told RTE’s The Week in Politics that he was “quite sure” that the authorities in Leinster House would take security in the parliament very seriously.

The ICCL said the surveillance system operated by Hikvision targets Uyghur based on racial attributes and flags them for detention at mass internment camps.

“Hikvision is implicated in grave human rights violation against Uyghur Muslims in China and there are also significant national security concerns associated with their use in Leinster House,” said Dr Kris Shrishak, technology fellow at the ICCL.

“It is clear that we are out of step with our international colleagues in Europe, Australia and the USA who are banning or removing these cameras from government buildings.”

Mr Costello wrote to the Ceann Comhairle and members of the Oireachtas commission on Friday raising alleged links between Hikvision and the Chinese military.

“Do bear in mind that mobile phones are now not allowed into Cabinet meetings due to concerns around security and electronic spying showing that these are realistic and meaningful threats,” he said in his letter.

He said the ethics council for Norway’s state wealth fund had called for Hikvision to be excluded from its investment “due to an unacceptable risk that the company is contribute to serious human rights violations” arising from its surveillance of the Uyghur Muslims.

“At the very least I would ask the commission to review the security risks of these cameras and seek further information from others who have removed them from government buildings due to security concerns,” Mr Costello said in his letter.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times