Britain should be more concerned about Chinese-made CCTV cameras on the streets than spy balloons 60,000ft above ground, a watchdog has warned.
New findings from the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner (OBSCC) said British police forces are “shot through” with Chinese cameras, drones and other surveillance equipment.
The watchdog’s survey also suggested bodies using the equipment were “generally aware that there are security and ethical concerns about the companies supplying their kit”.
There have been growing concerns in recent days about the threat of Chinese spy balloons after the US shot down four objects flying in its airspace this month, prompting the UK to review its security measures.
Washington declared one of the aircraft as Chinese spyware.
There are now security fears over police using Chinese-made drones.
All police forces across England and Wales, as well as the British Transport Police, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, Ministry of Defence, and the National Crime Agency (NCA), were asked in June last year about their use and governance of CCTV and other surveillance cameras.
The watchdog said several of the respondents claimed their camera systems use equipment which there had been security or ethical concerns about.
Fraser Sampson, of the OBSCC, said: “It is abundantly clear from this detailed analysis of the survey results that the police estate in the UK is shot through with Chinese surveillance cameras.
“It is also clear that the forces deploying this equipment are generally aware that there are security and ethical concerns about the companies that supply their kit.”
He added: “There has been a lot in the news in recent days about how concerned we should be about Chinese spy balloons 60,000 feet up in the sky.
“I do not understand why we are not at least as concerned about the Chinese cameras six feet above our head in the street and elsewhere…”
Mr Sampson said it should be considered whether it is appropriate for bodies to use equipment made by companies with “such serious questions hanging over them”.
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The OBSCC said 39 of the 47 bodies and forces contacted for the survey responded, which was “disappointing”.
Around 18 said their external camera systems use equipment that had security or ethical concerns, while at least 24 gave the same response when asked about internal camera systems.
A National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) spokesman said: “Following government guidance where governmental departments have been instructed to cease the deployment of such equipment around sensitive sites, UK Policing will conduct necessary reviews to ensure national security standards are met.
“Model contractual terms and conditions are widely used across policing, and these include specific provisions for equality, diversity and human rights. These are imposed on contracted suppliers and would be used to enforce any breach of contract.”
The Telegraph also reported that more than two-thirds of drones operated by police forces in the UK are made by a Chinese firm that is blacklisted in the US.
A Home Office source told the newspaper on Tuesday that Home Secretary Suella Braverman had “concerns” about the use of Chinese technology in the UK and would want police to make sure all their data is “secure and not vulnerable to any interference by a foreign state”.