National Security

ADF hunts 'spy cams'

February 9, 2023

Sarah Basford Canales, Karen Barlow
The Canberra Times
Thursday 9 February 2023

ALL Defence sites around the nation will be checked for Chinese-linked surveillance cameras after the potential "spy cams" were found in at least one location. Defence Minister Richard Marles has acknowledged the presence of at least one surveillance system in operation at a Defence site with work underway to have it removed.

The new revelation, described as a "unique risk" by Liberal senator James Paterson, comes as the Coalition senator calls for a government-wide audit of the surveillance cameras, suggesting it could be led by the Department of Home Affairs. The senator has been asking all departments what Chinese-linked surveillance equipment they have in operation, with a particular focus on brands Hikvision and Dahua, which have been restricted in the United States and the United Kingdom on national security grounds.

He said he wants action from the Albanese government. "What I'd really like to see from them is a plan to deal with this problem to remove these devices.

They won the last election," he told The Canberra Times. We accept that they're now in government and so it is their responsibility to fix this.

"I've done the best I can for opposition through questions on notice, but there's nothing quite like a proper government audit led by, for example, the Department of Home Affairs.

"It is not known how many cameras or devices are setup within the system at the unnamed Defence site or how long they have been installed there for.

The Department of Defence is also expected to complete a "comprehensive physical assessment" of all Defence sites by the end of April for any further devices with their removal considered "a priority".

The Canberra Times has contacted Mr Marles' office and the Defence Department for further details.

They did not respond before publication. The concerns over the Chinese-manufactured technology arose after the sale and use of equipment from several Chinese tech companies was restricted int he US and the UK.

Senator Paterson said he is not advocating for a sales ban in Australia.

"I think the most important thing is to get them out of government facilities," he said.

A string of federal agencies have since confirmed they have numerous devices installed.

Some government agencies have already been making efforts to remove and replace the suspect security hardware.

While modern technology poses risks, Senator Paterson said he was particularly concerned about those Chinese security companies.

"Under the 2017 National Intelligence law, they are compelled to cooperate with Chinese intelligence agencies and to keep that cooperation secret," he said.

"So we may never know if data is being exfiltrated from these cameras or other software companies that operate in Australia from China, and whether it is ultimately falling into the hands of the Chinese Communist Party and its intelligence agencies.

"So those, they pose a particularly unique risk."

As for whether they are being used as "spyware", the senator said, "the frightening thing is that it's very hard to tell."

On Wednesday morning, The Canberra Times revealed the Australian War Memorial was removing 11 Hikvision-branded cameras across two of its sites following fears the Chinese-owned technology could be used as spyware.

The war memorial's chair Kim Beazley confirmed on Wednesday morning the surveillance cameras were being removed as a precautionary matter and not as a result of anything "untoward". Hikvision-branded devices have also been confirmed as being installed and in operation across other federal departments, including in buildings within the Treasury, Finance, and Infrastructure portfolios in Canberra.

The National Disability Insurance Agency's national office in Geelong confirmed it was in the process of removing its network of the Chinese-linked surveillance cameras, as first reported by The Canberra Times in December last year. The Hikvision closed circuit television system, with 132 cameras and four recorders, will be pulled and replaced with a vetted system before March, an answered question on notice said.

The opposition's Home Affairs spokeswoman Karen Andrews encouraged the Albanese government to reach out over the possible security risk. She added she hoped departments would look back at what systems they have in place and whether they pose a risk to national security.

"I think there's more work to be done," she said.

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