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Australia to remove Chinese-made surveillance cameras

February 9, 2023

Canberra has made it clear that it is not concerned about how China might react. Last year, both the UK and the US banned several similar Chinese tech products.

A Hikvision security camera
Australia to remove Chinese-made security cameras from government buildingsImage: Wang Gang/dpa/picture-alliance

Australia has decided to examine and remove Chinese-made surveillance technology used in government buildings.

Defense Minister Richard Marles on Thursday said the Chinese-made cameras could pose a security risk for the country.

Two companies, Hikvision and Dahua, have provided at least 913 cameras, intercoms, electronic entry systems and video recorders in over 250 Australian government buildings.

Both companies are partly owned by the Chinese government.

"We would have no way of knowing if the sensitive information, images and audio collected by these devices are secretly being sent back to China against the interests of Australian citizens,'' said shadow Minister for Cyber Security James Paterson, who requested the audit.

The checks came after Britain in November announced that it would stop installing Chinese-linked surveillance cameras in sensitive buildings.

Some US states have also banned vendors and products from several Chinese technology companies.

A Dahua brand security camera fixed on a wall in Australia's Defense Department.
An audit found at least 913 pieces of equipment in over 250 Australian government buildings. Image: Mark Baker/AP Photo/picture alliance

Hikvision rejects claims of security threat

An audit found that equipment from at least one of the two companies was present in almost every government department, except the Agriculture Department and Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Paterson urged the government to "urgently" come up with a plan.

Defense Minister Marles said that issue was significant but added "I don't think we should overstate it."

Hikvision said that to represent the company as a national security threat is "categorically false," as it cannot sell cloud storage, access the video data or manage databases of end users in Australia.

"Our cameras are compliant with all applicable Australian laws and regulations and are subject to strict security requirements," said a spokesperson of the company.

Dahua Technology has not yet responded.

How China is reining In its tech titans

China urges "fair" treatment

Beijing on Thursday accused Canberra of "misusing national might to discriminate against and suppress Chinese enterprises."

"We hope Australia will provide a fair, just and nondiscriminatory environment for the normal operations of Chinese enterprises," said China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning. 

According to Paterson, both companies are subject to China's national intelligence law which requires them to cooperate with Chinese intelligence. 

In similar cases, China's general response to such situations has been to defend their high-tech companies and present them as good corporate citizens who play no part in intelligence gathering. 

Australia's rocky relationship with China

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he was not concerned about how China might react to the removal of cameras.

"We act in accordance with Australia's national interest. We do so transparently and that's what we will continue to do," Albanese told reporters.

In 2018, Australia decided to ban Chinese tech giant Huawei from its 5G broadband network. Since then, China and Australia have been trying to mend their damaged diplomatic ties.

Australia: Farmers hit by China trade tariffs

Relations were further damaged however when Australia called for an independent investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

China responded with tariffs on several Australian commodities.

ns/es (Reuters, AP)