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Risk of foreign biometric surveillance highlighted by UK Commissioner

Asking Minister to update national surveillance camera strategy
Risk of foreign biometric surveillance highlighted by UK Commissioner

The UK Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner Professor Fraser Sampson has written a new letter to Baroness Williams, Minister of State for the Lords.

In the email, Sampson called for clarifications about a series of incidents related to surveillance cameras, and particularly to three series of events.

The first one relates to the UK government decision to remove Huawei and its equipment from the 5G rollout program in July 2020.

“Looking beyond surveillance cameras, the increasing interoperability /interdependency of systems that keep our citizens safe raises further considerations about the provenance and practices of manufacturers and service providers,” Sampson explained.

“As the features of biometrics and surveillance systems become more sophisticated and further embedded in the infrastructure of our everyday lives they will demand renewed attention from us all.”

Secondly, the Surveillance Camera Commissioner requested clarifications regarding the report of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee dubbed ‘The UK’s Responsibility to Act on Atrocities in Xinjiang and Beyond,’ which was published earlier this month.

“Direct corporate complicity in the furtherance of human rights abuses in the specific context of surveillance camera technology has been raised directly by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee,” Sampson said.

“Having set out the evidence against which it reached its conclusions, the Committee goes on to make a number of recommendations which will be a matter for others.”

Finally, Sampson called for a discussion regarding the widespread public comment on the circumstances preceding the resignation of the former Health Secretary Matt Hancock, which include conduct captured on Hikvision cameras.

“There are some aspects of the risks and considerations raised here that involve the framework for data protection and I will be raising them with the Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham when we meet this week.”

The points were also echoed by Tony Porter, Corsight.ai Chief Privacy Officer and former UK Surveillance Camera Commissioner.

“As the letter correctly identifies this is a position I argued for repeatedly in several of my Annual Reports to Parliament. In fact, I argued for much broader inclusion – NHS/Education/Transport Authorities (quasi-governmental organisations),” Porter explained.

In his time as Surveillance Camera Commissioner, before the role was combined with the Biometrics Commissioner, Porter was a strong advocate of human rights and privacy, in particular. In January 2019, he updated the UK national surveillance camera strategy to call for stronger regulations.

“This is much broader than a data protection issue,” he said in a LinkedIn post. “Recent events at the Health Department call for a reappraisal of governmental approach. The new SCC needs industry and public support in arguing successfully for these changes.”

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