Privacy group complains of ‘unlawful’ facial recognition at convenience stores

Independent grocery chain Southern Co-operative said it has installed the surveillance technology to protect staff and customers.

26 July 2022

Privacy rights group Big Brother Watch has submitted a complaint against Southern Co-Operative’s use of facial recognition cameras, claiming it is “Orwellian” and “unlawful”.

According to the complaint made 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 independent grocery chain had installed the surveillance technology in 35 stores across Portsmouth, Bournemouth, Bristol, Brighton and Hove, Chichester, Southampton and London.

It claimed supermarket staff could add individuals to a “blacklist” where the biometric information is kept for up to two years but shoppers were not informed.

The group’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.”

In a statement carried by the BBC, Southern Co-Op said it would welcome “constructive feedback” from the Information Commissioner: “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.”

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