A message to our members and conference delegates
First of all, apologies for the lengthy message but we wanted to let you know that Fraser Sampson, the Biometrics & Surveillance Camera Commissioner (BSCC), has decided not to attend Vision 2022, our annual conference and exhibition being held 25-27 April.
We have been working with Fraser to try to address his concerns about speaking at the conference, but in the end he chose to withdraw despite our best efforts.
Fraser has chosen to withdraw as a speaker as part of an ongoing disagreement with the management of Hikvision UK. As you can see from his commissioner’s blog on the Gov.uk website, he has been in dialogue with Hikvision UK for nearly a year, seeking answers to questions about the parent company’s involvement in the province of Xinjiang in China where there have been numerous documented cases of the oppression of the Uighur Muslim population by the Chinese government.
Recently Fraser informed us that he would not be willing to speak at our conference if Hikvision was an exhibitor or sponsor of the event so long as Hikvision UK did not answer his questions on the record (Hikvision are not a sponsor).
We were hopeful that Fraser and Hikvision would be able to resolve the outstanding issues between them and that we would be able to have both parties at the conference.
Fraser is of course the Surveillance Camera Commissioner, and Hikvision is a leading supplier of surveillance equipment in the UK, widely specified and used in government and the private sector, so it would have been ideal to have both of them at the conference.
However, if it came down to a choice between the two, we made it clear to Fraser that we would prefer to have him as a speaker and we would ask Hikvision not to attend.
However, yesterday (Thursday 17/3) Fraser stated that he did not think he and Hikvision would reach an agreement regarding this matter, and he announced that he was withdrawing from the conference.
We are disappointed at his decision. We were prepared to bend over backwards to accommodate Fraser, but for reasons we don’t entirely understand, he chose to withdraw anyway.
We are also disappointed because we feel that we have been drawn into an argument between the two parties that we are not empowered to resolve. The CCTV User Group is a non-political organisation, it was established to provide advice to Members and encourage best practice in video surveillance.
In the absence of government guidelines on the use of CCTV, and in response to direct questions from Members, we have provided guidance over the years on a number of matters. For instance, it was the CCTV User Group that wrote the first CCTV Code of Practice document, which was adopted by the first Surveillance Camera Commissioner and became the basis for the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice.
Last summer we published advice to Members on ethical, financial and security issues they might want to consider in the procurement of CCTV equipment and services, especially from companies based in countries which had been criticised over human rights or were considered by the intelligence services to be a potential security risk.
It is not our role to go further than this and advocate either for or against any particular companies. We feel this is a role for the government.
However, the UK government has not banned Chinese companies from supplying CCTV equipment. This is despite calls from both the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons to ban them on ethical grounds.
Fraser’s recent call to insert an ethics clause in the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice was rejected by the Home Secretary during the recent consultation on updating the Code. So the government was not prepared to go even that far.
But now Fraser is asking the CCTV User Group to stand alone and sanction a company that has not been sanctioned by the UK government and whose equipment continues to be installed by central government, local government and the private sector.
Banning them from attending the CCTV User Group conference would have limited impact on Hikvision either in China or the UK but would have a disproportionate impact on the CCTV User Group. Fraser is essentially asking us to pay the price that might allow him to apply a little leverage over one company.
As we said, we are dismayed that we have been drawn into this argument between Fraser and a private company. We are also disappointed that despite being prepared to accommodate him, Fraser has withdrawn from the conference. And most of all, we are disappointed that by doing so, he has deprived our Members of the ability to hear directly from their regulator.
The Surveillance Camera Commissioner has a statutory obligation to promote the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice and encourage as many CCTV systems to have due regard for the Code. By not attending our conference, one of the set pieces of the CCTV industry calendar and the first face-to-face conference we have been able to hold in more than two years, we are losing the opportunity to be updated on his latest thinking.
We hope he will reconsider his decision, and if he does, we are prepared to welcome him to the conference, as we have welcomed his predecessors to every conference since his office was first established.
We will continue to support the work that the Office of the Biometric and Surveillance Camera Commissioner undertakes and firmly believe that this contributes to the raising of standards across the sector which in turn will result in an effective use of video surveillance systems with higher levels of support from the public.
Rest assured, we still have a fantastic conference programme lined up for you. Those who have attended past conferences describe it as an unparalleled networking and educational experience, and if you haven’t booked your place yet, there’s still time to join us on 25-27 April at a wonderful venue in Northamptonshire. For more info, visit the website.