LONDON (Reuters) -The British government on Thursday told its departments to stop installing Chinese-linked surveillance cameras at sensitive buildings, citing security risks.
The decision comes after a review of "current and future possible security risks associated with the installation of visual surveillance systems on the government estate," cabinet office minister Oliver Dowden said in a written statement to parliament.
"The review has concluded that, in light of the threat to the UK and the increasing capability and connectivity of these systems, additional controls are required," Dowden said.
When asked for comment, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told reporters on Friday that China has always encouraged Chinese companies operating abroad to comply with local laws.
"China firmly opposes the overstretching of the concept of national security by some people to unreasonably suppress Chinese enterprises," Mao said.
"The Chinese government will firmly safeguard the legitimate and legal rights and interests of Chinese enterprises."
The British directive applies to cameras made by companies subject to Chinese security laws and includes guidance for departments to disconnect such devices from core computer networks and to consider removing them altogether.
It comes months after dozens of lawmakers called for a ban on the sale and use of security cameras made by Hikvision and Dahua, two partly state-owned Chinese firms, over privacy fears and concerns of the companies' products being linked to human rights abuses in China.
Hikvision in a statement to Reuters denied the claims, saying the company will further seek to engage with British authorities to understand the decision.
"Hikvision cannot transmit data from end-users to third parties, we do not manage end-user databases, nor do we sell cloud storage in the UK," a company spokesperson said.
The British office of Dahua did not immediately respond to emails from Reuters seeking comment.
The United States has slapped trade and usage restrictions for cameras made by Hikvision, Dahua and other Chinese firms.
A majority of British public bodies use surveillance cameras made by Hikvision or Dahua, privacy advocacy group Big Brother Watch said in July.
A number of government departments including the interior and business ministries have had Hikvision cameras visibly in use on the front of their buildings, the group had said.
Dowden's statement said that following the government review: "Departments have therefore been instructed to cease deployment of such equipment onto sensitive sites, where it is produced by companies subject to the National Intelligence Law of the People’s Republic of China."
"Since security considerations are always paramount around these sites, we are taking action now to prevent any security risks materialising."
(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar and Lavanya Ahire; Additional reporting by Martin Quin Pollard in Beijing; Writing by William James; Editing by Kate Holton, Daniel Wallis and Christina Fincher)