Co-op comes under fire for ‘unlawful’ use of facial recognition

A privacy rights group has submitted a complaint against the use of facial recognition cameras at Southern Co-operative stores, claiming it is “Orwellian” and “unlawful.”

According to the complaint made by Big Brother Watch to the Information Commissioner’s Office, the surveillance system “uses novel technology and highly invasive processing of personal data, creating a biometric profile of every visitor to stores where its cameras are installed”.

The group said the chain had installed the surveillance technology in 35 stores, including in two Hove branches – Western Road and Old Shoreham Road, Abinger Road in Portslade, and Spitalfield Lane in Chichester.

Cameras at the stores capture the faces of customers as they enter, with their images analysed and converted into biometric data.

That is then compared with a database of people the Co-op has recorded as having stolen from their stores in the past or been violent.

The privacy rights group claimed that supermarket staff could add individuals to a “blacklist” where such information is kept for up to two years, but shoppers were not informed.

Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo said: “Our legal complaint to the Information Commissioner is a vital step towards protecting the privacy rights of thousands of people who are affected by this dangerously intrusive, privatised spying.

“The Southern Co-op’s use of live facial recognition surveillance is Orwellian in the extreme, highly likely to be unlawful, and must be immediately stopped by the Information Commissioner.”

In a statement carried by the BBC, Southern Co-op said: “We take our responsibilities around the use of facial recognition extremely seriously and work hard to balance our customers’ rights with the need to protect our colleagues and customers from unacceptable violence and abuse.

“The safety of our colleagues and customers is paramount and this technology has made a significant difference to this, in the limited number of high-risk locations where it is being used.


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