Co-op facial recognition sparks backlash

Charity Privacy International has expressed concerns about the launch of facial recognition across 18 Co-operative stores.

Southern Co-operative, which has more than 200 Co-operative stores in the south of England, said that the technology had been deployed in response to an 80 per cent increase in assaults and violence towards staff this year.

The supermarket retailer decided to deploy facial recognition, developed by start-up Facewatch, in stores where there has been a higher level of crime.

Privacy International has written to the supermarket chain to “express serious concerns” about the technology.

The charity said it is concerned that deployment of the tech at Co-op stores could leave customers with no choice but to submit themselves to facial recognition scans.

It also said it was concerned about the potential sharing of captured data with police, with or without Co-op’s knowledge.

But Southern Co-operative has promised that no facial images will be shared with the police or any other organisation.

The supermarket chain said that the system is GDPR compliant and does not store images of individuals unless they have been identified as a repeat offender.

The privacy charity has called on Southern Co-operative to confirm whether it has reviewed any privacy as well as any other fundamental rights concerns related to the use of Facewatch, and if so, what the outcome of that review was.

It has also asked whether Co-op believes the legal framework governing its stores’ use of Facewatch is currently sufficiently clear and able to satisfy data protection law and whether it is aware if Facewatch has in fact entered into such a data sharing agreement with any police force and whether it will investigate the matter.

Earlier this year, the charity urged UK authorities to investigate “evidence that Facewatch is offering to transform its crime alerting system into another surveillance network for UK police forces by offering them the ability to "plug-in" to the system.”

Southern Co-operative said that any further use of facial recognition will be limited, adding that it has no plans to roll out the technology across all of its stores.

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