February 29, 2024

Finding shoplifters through facial recognition – netzpolitik.org

From the British website Facewatch call monitoring companyA sign will appear. He basically asserts that “it’s all legal.” The ICO investigated the company for four years and eventually found that everything was legal. The official certification also ensures the London company adheres to the Code of Conduct for CCTV Operators.

Similar banners can now also be found offline, in front of hundreds of small and large stores and retail chains in the UK, including Spar and Sports Direct. Anyone entering stores is scanned: CCTV cameras record customers’ faces and transmit biometric data to systems that compare it with a database. It contains facial data of people who have “reasonable suspicion” that they are shoplifters or other high-profile customers. If an injury occurs, the system sounds an alarm and notifies store employees. They can then keep a close eye on the suspects or compliment them right outside the store.

Invasive technology is now common practice

While the European Union is currently debating whether and to what extent real-time biometric surveillance should be allowed, the practice has become part of daily life on the British island – not only among government investigative authorities, but also in nearby private supermarkets. A monthly subscription to the Facewatch provider costs as little as £250, which equates to just under €290. This includes a notification service and the option to enter suspect recordings into the database.

This is made possible by the rapidly declining costs of real-time facial recognition. In addition to its own software, Facewatch relies on Amazon Rekognition to protect itself. It costs less than 2 cents to query using the cloud service, and after 500,000 scans it becomes cheaper. But the technology is dangerous because it is prone to errors and can quickly differentiate. Amazon knows this, too: The company publicly excluded police from its offerings a few years ago, and has since extended the moratorium indefinitely. However, this clearly does not include private sector participants who perform police-like tasks.

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This leads to problems. In Bristol, for example, a woman was thrown out of a store for an “incident” ten months ago, and ended up on the database for a year. The New York Times reports. It is still unclear whether this was a mistake or a misunderstanding. But it was evident that the sum was about twenty pounds, which was a trifle. The woman did not even know that she had ended up on the blacklist and was unable to defend herself before it was too late.

Green light for face monitoring

British surveillance company Facewatch hopes the banners will create trust. Screenshot of Facewatch.co.uk

In fact, Facewatch made some adjustments after investigating the ICO. Among other things, more information signs in front of and in stores now refer to the technology, the storage of personal data is said to have been reduced to a minimum and the focus is on repeat offenders, writes the person in charge. ICO official Stephen Bonner in a blog post. This is intended to make cases like the one in Bristol impossible. Otherwise, there’s a green light for supermarket screening: “Innovative solutions that support businesses in crime prevention are in the public interest and benefit society,” Bonner wrote.

However, the general public does not seem to have fully grasped the extent to which mass surveillance has now reached in the UK. As a tabloid newspaper The Daily Mail revealed in the springThe fact that Sports Direct, one of the largest sports chains, uses the Facewatch system, has caused a real scandal. Dozens The representatives protestedwhich is widely supported An open letter from the fundamental rights organization Big Brother Watch Beware of technology.

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“Despite its aggressive nature, real-time facial recognition has proven to be inaccurate and an ineffective tool in the fight against crime,” she said. In the message. To date, 87% of alerts issued by the Metropolitan Police system have been inaccurate. The report continues that black people and women are disproportionately affected: “In public settings, such misidentifications can be extremely traumatic for the affected person, and can have broader impacts on their life and livelihood.”

So far the warnings have gone unheeded, and Sports Direct and other stores continue to expand their monitoring systems. It was only announced last week that… The ICO investigated Facewatch for several legal violations has been brought to light. There was no penalty for this; The supervisory authority only needed minor modifications to the monitoring system. However, this does not affect the fundamental problem of the technology, Big Brother Hour writes: “We confirm that the processing of Facewatch data does not comply with data protection and human rights standards.”