Convenience store in UK accused of 'unlawfully' using live facial-recognition cameras in stores

London, UK Updated: Jul 26, 2022, 10:56 PM(IST)

Representative image for facial recognition technology. Photograph:( Others )

Story highlights

Is Southern Co-Op spying? The legal complaint claims that the use of the biometric cameras 'is infringing the data rights of a significant number of UK data subjects' 

The Southern Co-Op chain, which is a regional consumer co-operative in the United Kingdom, is facing a legal challenge after it has been accused of using live facial-recognition cameras in its stores "unlawfully". 

The reports were published in UK-based media outlets after Big Brother Watch, which is a non-profit non-party British civil liberties and privacy campaigning organisation, complained to the country's Information Commissioner's Office about biometric surveillance at its shops. 

The allegations are quite arming against the firm that operates a network of convenience food stores, funeral homes, burial grounds and a Starbucks coffee franchise across the south of England. 

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The legal complaint claims that the use of the biometric cameras "is infringing the data rights of a significant number of UK data subjects". 

As per the complaint, the firm "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 system was sold by London-based surveillance firm Facewatch. 

As quoted by EandT, Big Brother Watch's 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." 

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A BBC report quoted Southern Co-op as saying that it would welcome "constructive feedback" from the Information Commissioner. 

It 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. Signage is on display in the relevant stores. As long as it continues to prevent violent attacks, then we believe its use is justified," it added. 

The questionable technology has been installed by the firm in 35 stores across Portsmouth, Bournemouth, Bristol, Brighton and Hove, Chichester, Southampton and London, media reports noted. 

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