Hundreds of thousands of cameras supplied by Chinese companies that US lawmakers have said are creating a “surveillance network” are in use across Australia in military bases, council offices, outside government departments and in public places.
An ABC 7.30 report found that cameras supplied by Chinese firms Hikvision and Dahua are being used in some of the most sensitive areas in the country in a “real dereliction of duty”, according to head of the International Cyber Policy Centre at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Fergus Hanson.
Both companies have faced continual accusations that they are spying on behalf of the Chinese government, and were recently banned by the US government.
“Video surveillance and security equipment sold by Chinese companies exposes the US government to significant vulnerabilities, and my amendment will ensure that China cannot create a video surveillance network within federal agencies,” congresswoman Vicky Hartzler said.
But the ABC found that the same cameras were being used at the RAAF Base Edinburgh in Adelaide, which is the “centre of the nation’s military intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and electronic warfare capabilities”, according to Defence SA.
The cameras were removed after queries from the ABC.
A Dahua camera was also found above the entrance to an office block hosting some of the country’s most classified agencies, above the entrance of the Canberra headquarters of the Australian Government Solicitor, in dozens of NSW government facilities and at Central Station in Sydney.
Hanson said that having these cameras in secure locations “just doesn’t make any sense”.
“It’s a real dereliction of duty to have them in military bases,” Hanson told ABC 7.30. “But even on the street you’ve got the potential to inadvertently contribute towards Chinese espionage activity by providing real time information about the situation on the ground, all over the world, and in collective terms, quite an important data feed to China.”
Following the broadcasting of the investigation, shares fell in both companies fell. Hikvision is listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange and plummeted by nearly 9 percent, while Dahua fell nearly 10 percent.
Hivision emerged from China’s military surveillance wing, and the government still has a 42 percent stake in it.
The companies have also been accused of deliberately placing security flaws into their systems to allow spying from the Chinese government, allowing access to the cameras’ audio, video and metadata.
“China’s trying to set itself up as the number one country for cyber espionage, and these cameras are a key part of that platform,” Hanson said. “You can remotely access them from China to another location around the world and essentially see what that camera is seeing. Passwords are available online.
“If they’re not properly configured they provide all kinds of vulnerabilities. They’re not particularly secure cameras.”
The Chinese government has rejected these claims, as have both companies.
“Hikvision has never conducted, nor will conduct, any espionage-related activities for any government in the world,” a spokesperson told the ABC.
Hikvision also rejected its banning in the US as baseless and the accusations as being centred on “obvious speculation and bias”.
“Hikvision is a commercial entity that operates globally and strictly conforms to business ethics and all relevant regulations,” a Hikvision spokesperson said. “We are dedicated to the advancement of safety in all countries and regions.”
Hikvision was also criticised earlier this year when it released a video showing the use of facial recognition technology to classify people as “ethnic minorities” in the Shandong province of Mount Tai. The company is focusing heavily on the use of facial recognition technology, along with artificial intelligence.