Southern Co-op accused of 'unlawful' use of facial recognition

Civil rights campaigners have filed a legal complaint about Southern Co-op’s use of facial recognition in its stores.

Big Brother Watch claims that the supermarket’s use of the technology is “unlawful”.

The organisation, which filed the compliant with the information commissioner, says that the company scans and stores data on thousands of shoppers, describing the technology as Orwellian.

It alleges that the use of biometric cameras is infringing the data rights of a significant number of the company's UK customers.

According to the privacy group, the chain uses invasive processing of personal data to create a biometric profile for every visitor to stores where cameras are installed.

It said that staff at Southern Co-op stores can add customers to a facial recognition blacklist and make them a “subject of interest” for two years without them knowing.

Southern Co-op currently has surveillance technology installed across 35 stores in Portsmouth, Bournemouth, Bristol, Brighton and Hove, Chichester, Southampton, and London, said the group.

The company says that the number one reason for violence against its store employees is when they intervene after a theft has already taken place.

It added that a limited and targeted use of facial recognition is used to identify when a known offender enters a store.

"We would welcome any constructive feedback from the ICO as 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," said a spokesperson from Southern Co-op. "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."

Retail Systems has approached Southern Co-op for comment on the legal complaint.

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