Letter from Biometrics and CCTV Commissioner to NPCC Chairman Martin Hewitt, 22 March 2022 (accessible)

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Martin Hewitt QPM
Chairman of the National Council of Chiefs of Police
By email to: [email protected]

March 22, 2022

Dear Martin

Subject: Human rights atrocities enabled by surveillance

I hope you are well and that the recent NPCC CCTV conference in Bristol was well received. For my part, I found it interesting and practically oriented and I am grateful for the invitation to address the venue.

I am writing to follow up on the event and formally express my concerns regarding human rights and ethical considerations in the purchase and deployment of surveillance technology. I have previously written to ministers about the ethical and security considerations to be taken into account in light of the evidence that has emerged about some state-sponsored surveillance companies. As I indicated in my presentation in Bristol, I highlighted the obvious and unavoidable ethical considerations arising from the findings of the Foreign Affairs Committee in July 2021 and the subsequent judgment of the Uyghur court in December last year regarding the treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, China.

I am not alone in believing that there are very specific human rights and ethical considerations involved in the partnership between police and surveillance technology companies associated with these atrocities. As for the purely ethical considerations of sourcing from these companies using police money, I don’t see how such a decision would go beyond the national ethics-centric decision-making model. However, while most police need no explanation of why it would, for example, be abhorrent to expect officers and staff to wear body-worn devices supplied by the same state-sponsored companies that use these devices to facilitate the rape, torture and murder of detainees, as the Tribunal has found, and why it would go against our traditional policing values, some still argue that the Absence of a government ‘prohibited list’ means it is acceptable to do so. For me, this not only abdicates ethical leadership; it also risks significantly harming the public trust that the police still enjoy in the UK.

In his final report as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of the Constabulary Fire and Rescue Services (HMCIC), Sir Tom Winsor states:

Those who knowingly and willfully create or condone the conditions in which crimes are committed and victims are isolated from protection and justice should have the strongest grounds to fear the criminal law, vigorously managed and enforced by the institutions charged with enforcement of state law.

I would invite all members of such a law enforcement institution to agree with this statement which is grounded in the professional values ​​of our police service, a police service which is still one of the most admired, respected and imitated in the world; I would also invite them to consider whether the proven treatment of Uyghur Muslim detainees fits this description.

Looking ahead, the HMCIC says, “What is needed is a material intensification of a partnership with the private sector that is firmly and sustainably based on trust and the common interest.” Nowhere is this truer than in the context of biometric surveillance.

As we know, the use of police surveillance is already one of the most sensitive and controversial aspects of consent policing today and I believe that strong and clarity is necessary if we are to take our communities, our partners and our people with us. . To this end, I plan to draft guidance on specific human rights and ethical considerations in this area and will be working with partners on this in the coming weeks and have written to Jenny Gilmer, Head of NPCC for CCTV, welcoming any contributions. I am also meeting with Jim Colwell this week and will discuss these issues with him in the context of body-worn devices.

Cordially,
Professor Fraser Sampson
Commissioner for biometrics and surveillance cameras

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