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Former UK Biometrics Commissioner joins Facewatch in advisory role

Former UK Biometrics Commissioner joins Facewatch in advisory role
 

Fraser Sampson the former UK Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner, has been appointed to a non-executive director role by retail face biometrics provider Facewatch.

Sampson engaged with Facewatch in his capacity as Commissioner in early 2022 to discuss ethical practices and the importance of retaining trust. The company was certified compliant with the UK’s Surveillance Camera Code of Practice by Sampson in March of this year, shortly before it was approved by the Information Commissioner’s Office as compliant with data protection law.

The company’s live facial recognition cameras have been deployed to hundreds of supermarkets and other retailers on UK high-streets, according to The Guardian, to combat shoplifting.

Sampson departed the regulatory role on October 31, and started at Facewatch on November 1, according to Companies House registration records.

The timing has sparked suggestions that he may have been negotiating with the company while responsible for regulating it.

Big Brother Watch Advocacy Director Mark Johnson told the Guardian: “It cannot be acceptable for those in taxpayer-paid oversight roles to negotiate contracts with the very companies they scrutinise while still in post.”

Sampson says he “put in place specific measures to ensure the avoidance of any potential conflict of interest, however limited that potential might be. I am satisfied that no such conflict arose,” he adds. Further, Sampson says he wrote to Jennifer Rubin, his chief scientific advisor, to inform her of his plans, and that Home Office had not placed and conditions or restrictions extending past the end of his appointment.

The move also comes in the context of an uncertain regulatory environment for biometrics and surveillance cameras in the UK. Sampson resigned the Commissioner’s role ahead of it being mothballed, with some of the responsibilities moved under the auspice of the ICO, a move that Sampson specifically criticized for leaving potential gaps in the oversight of surveillance technology.

Sampson says in a statement the decision to join Facewatch was easy. “They have invited challenge, reviewed practice and policy and responded promptly to ensure their operations are lawful and ethical.”

“Facewatch sought to recruit Professor Sampson to act as a critical friend,” says Facewatch Chairman Nick Fisher. “His appointment further strengthens our commitment to responsible and lawful facial recognition to prevent crime and people becoming victims of crime.”

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