By Chris Vallance
Don’t look away
An update to the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice is expected soon – the first update in eight years.
It will set out the rules which police and local authorities in England and Wales are expected to follow when using surveillance cameras.
Professor Sampson says the update must require public bodies to think about the ethics of the companies that supply camera technology.
He told the BBC, that at the moment “it is possible to buy camera systems and avert one’s eyes from the kind of surveillance operator practices that have been clearly condemned by the Commons foreign affairs committee.
“Looking the other way and simply focusing on the price ignores the ethical cost.”
He said “an ethical and socially responsible approach” was needed “where surveillance systems are being bought with public money”.
Professor Sampson said it was reasonable to expect suppliers of surveillance tech to behave ethically: “We are exhorting companies to set net-zero carbon targets – is it too much to ask them to set net-zero human rights abuse targets?”
Tom Tugendhat MP told the BBC: “I’m pleased to see the surveillance camera commissioner call for ethical considerations to be included in the camera code.
“The foreign affairs committee has already called for a ban on companies associated with the egregious human rights abuses being committed in Xinjiang.
“Those purchasing equipment should consider the ethical and moral cost, not just the price.”
On 8 July, the foreign affairs committee published a report which said cameras made by Chinese firm Hikvision “provide the primary camera technology used in the internment camps” and recommended that it “should not be permitted to operate within the UK”.
China claims the camps are “re-education” facilities used to combat terrorism.
Hikvision has said it does not oversee or control its devices once they are passed to installers, adding that “operational matters are not within our remit”.
The firm has called the committee’s accusations “unsubstantiated and not underpinned by evidence”.
Many local councils use Hikvision’s devices, research by Top10VPN found. Samuel Woodhams, who carried out the study, welcomed the commissioner’s intervention and said it “must now be followed up with concrete action”.
Professor Sampson is pursuing his own inquiries into the foreign affairs committee’s allegations against Hikvision,
He told the BBC he was still not satisfied with the firm’s answers, and his position remains that he would have expected an “unequivocal response to reports that their practices have been ethically compromised, but that has not been the case”.