Co-op has defended the use of facial recognition tech after pressure from privacy groups

Co-op has defended its use of facial recognition technology across nearly 20 stores after privacy advocate groups demanded it reviewed customers’ “fundamental rights”.

Last week it was reported that the Southern Co-op had quietly installed facial recognition technology from Facewatch, which scans the face of everyone entering the store to check them against a database of known suspects, across 18 of its stores.

Privacy International subsequently penned an open letter to the grocer, calling on it to confirm whether it had “reviewed any privacy as well as any other fundamental rights concerns” related to the use of the controversial technology.

It also urged the retailer to confirm whether Facewatch had entered into a data sharing agreement with any police force.

In response Co-op, which has seen a significant rise in crime and abuse against its staff this year, staunchly defended its use stating that it has been effective in protecting its employees.

“Already this year we have seen an 80 per cent rise in assaults and violence against our store colleagues,” it said in a statement.

READ MORE: Co-op is using facial recognition tech to scan shoppers faces as they enter stores

“This is not acceptable. We’re working hard to protect them but this is not at the expense of our customers rights.”

Southern Co-op argued that the leading reason for violence against its employees was when they intervened during a theft, and being able to identify repeat offenders helped mitigate this risk.

“Using facial recognition in this limited way has improved the safety of our store colleagues,” it continued.

“No facial images are shared with the police or with any other organisation, nor are any other organisation’s images shared with us for use within facial recognition. Only images of individuals known to have offended within our premises, including those who have been banned/excluded, are used on our facial recognition platform.”

“The system is GDPR compliant and does not store images of an individual unless they have been identified as a repeat offender. Any further use of facial recognition will be limited and we have no plans to roll this out across all of our stores.

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