Facial recognition technology has become a hot topic within the privacy rights community, particularly concerning its deployment in supermarkets. A notable example is Southern Co-op, a supermarket chain in the UK, which has implemented Facewatch live recognition cameras across 34 of its stores. Interestingly, the majority of these stores are located in economically disadvantaged areas. Despite the average Southern Co-op store being situated in wealthier neighborhoods, their facial recognition technology is predominantly used in the poorer halves of these communities.
Privacy experts, such as Professor Pete Fussey from the University of Essex, have expressed concerns regarding the disproportionate focus on marginalized individuals. The argument is that this type of surveillance tends to intensify scrutiny on minorities and those facing socioeconomic challenges, potentially leading to unfair treatment and privacy invasions. Southern Co-op insists that the placement of these cameras is solely based on crime data and stock loss reports, without considering the area’s level of deprivation or demographics.
The use of facial recognition technology is not limited to law enforcement; it’s increasingly employed by private firms as well. Advocates argue that it helps deter crime and identify offenders. However, there is a growing unease over the lack of regulation and transparency as the technology becomes more widespread. The House of Lords Justice and Home Affairs committee has recently voiced their concern, highlighting the absence of a clear legal foundation for the use of live facial recognition by police, and the disparate approaches to training among police forces.
While the technology’s proponents, including Nick Fisher, CEO of Facewatch, claim significant reductions in crime rates at locations where it’s deployed, human rights groups are urging retailers to reconsider their use of such invasive surveillance methods, especially given the potential for misidentification among people of color, women, and LGBTQ+ individuals. The government maintains that facial recognition has a solid legal basis and is instrumental in solving serious crimes, yet the debate continues on ensuring its use aligns with data protection and human rights laws.