Privacy advocates are raising eyebrows as Professor Fraser Sampson, the former overseer of facial recognition technology in the UK, has joined Facewatch, the private company he previously green-lighted, as a non-executive director. The questionable transition has ignited concerns over a potential mass deployment of biometric surveillance cameras throughout the UK’s high streets and the revolving door between the government and the private sector.
Critics call Sampson’s career move a glaring “conflict of interest,” as he assumed his directorial role at Facewatch right after leaving his public role on October 31. As reported by The Guardian, Sampson joined Facewatch literally the next day, on November 1.
Some argue this swift transition may indicate that Sampson was brokering his Facewatch contract while still holding his public post, an act that could have infringed on his public responsibilities.
Consequently, campaigners have called for official scrutiny from the advisory committee on business appointments, which is currently considering the matter.
Facewatch employs biometric cameras to match faces with a watch list. Despite public apprehension about this surveillance technology, the company has secured support from the Home Office and managed to incorporate its services into hundreds of high street shops and supermarkets already.
Big Brother Watch’s advocacy manager, Mark Johnson, voiced concerns, stating, “It cannot be acceptable for those in taxpayer-paid oversight roles to negotiate contracts with the very companies they scrutinize while still in post.”
However, Sampson defended his transition, asserting that he ensured there were measures in place to circumvent any potential conflicts of interest when he was formally approached to join Facewatch.
“I notified the Home Office and 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,” said Sampson.
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