Councils and police should consider the human rights records of video surveillance companies before purchasing, the surveillance camera watchdog said.
Professor Fraser Sampson’s appeal was supported by the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat MP.
The committee previously called for a ban on Chinese photographic technology said to have been used in Uighur internment camps.
But there are doubts that the government is adding the proposed ethical rule to the CCTV code.
Don’t look away
An update to the Code of Conduct for surveillance cameras is expected shortly, the first in eight years.
It will set out the rules that the police and local authorities in England and Wales should 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 present “it is possible to buy camera systems and look away from the kind of practices of surveillance operators that have been clearly condemned by the Municipalities Foreign Affairs Committee.
“Looking the other way and simply focusing on the price ignores the ethical cost.”
He said that “an ethical and socially responsible approach is needed” “where surveillance systems are bought with public money”.
Professor Sampson said it is reasonable to expect surveillance technology vendors to behave ethically: ‘We are urging companies to set zero carbon targets – it is too much to ask them to set zero human rights abuse targets. ? “
Tom Tugendhat MP told the BBC: “I am delighted to see that the commissioner for surveillance cameras is calling for ethical considerations to be included in the camera code.
“The Foreign Affairs Committee has already called for a ban on companies associated with serious human rights violations committed in Xinjiang.
“Anyone who buys equipment should consider the ethical and moral cost, not just the price.”
On July 8, the Foreign Affairs Committee released a report stating that cameras manufactured by the Chinese company Hikvision “provide the primary camera technology used in internment camps” and recommended that “it is not licensed to operate at within the United Kingdom “.
China claims that the camps are “re-education” facilities used to fight terrorism.
Hikvision said it does not supervise or control its devices once passed to the installers, adding that “operational matters are not our responsibility”.
The company called the committee’s allegations “baseless and unsupported by evidence.”
Many local councils use Hikvision devices, Top10VPN search found. Samuel Woodhams, who carried out the study, welcomed the Commissioner’s intervention and said that “it must now be followed up by concrete actions”.
Professor Sampson is pursuing his investigation into the Foreign Affairs Committee’s allegations against Hikvision,
He told the BBC that he was still not satisfied with the company’s responses, and his position remains that he would have expected an “unambiguous response to reports that their practices have been ethically compromised, but that has not been the case.”
He says the company offered him a meeting with a senior lawyer, but he declined, as the company said the content could not be shared with the media or the public.
Hikvision told the BBC it “respects human rights and strives to uphold the highest standards in every aspect of manufacturing, labor, supply chain and end use.
“Hikvision has always followed the camera code of conduct, going above and beyond as an industry leader, and we intend to do so in the future.”
Professor Sampson told the government that the code should provide guidance “where there is reason to believe that suppliers or manufacturers have been associated with violations of international law or human rights violations.”
But people close to the trial doubt this will make it into the rules, the BBC understands that.
The Home Office did not disclose what the new code will contain, but told the BBC that it supported the police’s appropriate use of technologies such as CCTV, adding: “The UK has spearheaded international efforts at the United Nations to find China responsible for its human rights violations in Xinjiang.
“We have also imposed sanctions, including an asset freeze and travel ban on senior Chinese government officials, and announced measures to help ensure that no UK organization is complicit in these violations across their supply chains.”
The government also pointed out that it was consulting on the transfer of the role of commissioner for surveillance cameras to the information commissioner’s office, which both Professor Sampson and the the current independent auditor of terrorism legislation objects.
- Human rights
- Mass surveillance
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