According to DailyStar, In an attempt to crack down on shoplifters, co-op stores in the UK have been using controversial face-recognition technology.
High-tech cameras from Facewatch, a London-based startup, were mounted in 18 stores throughout the country’s southern half.
In a blog post, Gareth Lewis, Loss Prevention and Security Manager at the Southern Co-op, explained that the system “alerts our store teams automatically when someone who has a previous record of fraud or anti-social behavior enters [a Co-op] store.”
If a suspect is identified by the AI camera system, workers in the store are notified by a mobile app.
Mr. Lewis notes that the device has been successfully tested “in a select number of shops where there is a higher level of crime,” adding that the cameras have “diverted over 3,000 theft incidents” over the past 18 months.
A spokesperson for Co-op said that there had been an 80 percent rise in assaults and abuse against the company’s employees this year, and that the cases were primarily connected with shoplifting.
“On our facial recognition platform, only images of individuals known to have offended within our premises, including those who have been banned [or] excluded, are used,” the spokesman told Wired.
“In this limited way, the use of facial recognition has enhanced the safety of our store colleagues.”
The new technology, the company notes, allows store workers extra time to decide about what action to take, “for example, asking them to leave the premises politely or notifying police if this is a violation of a prohibition order.”
The firm insists that none of the data from the device is exchanged with the police. “No facial photos are exchanged with the police or with any other organisation,’ said the spokesperson.
Edin Omanovic, Privacy International’s Advocacy Manager. It warns that it could discourage people from shopping during a pandemic until the technology becomes widely recognized. He says he wrote about his concerns to the Co-op, regulators and law enforcement.
In 2019, the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons warned that police forces should not use technology for facial recognition, citing concerns about precision and bias.
Facewatch keeps its customer list private, but in prisons, gas stations and other stores around the UK, the technology is reported to have been mounted.