UK Grocery Store Under Fire for Using Chinese Facial Recognition Tech

JAN 19, 2022

The UK’s Southern Co-op grocery chain is once again drawing scrutiny for its controversial facial recognition practices.

The franchise first revealed that it was using Facewatch facial recognition technology to monitor shoppers at 18 stores in Southern England back in December of 2020. Now the retailer is drawing additional fire after an IPVM report that found that Southern Co-op’s system is running on Hikvision facial recognition cameras.

Hikvision is a state-owned Chinese equipment manufacturer that has already been blacklisted in the US due to security concerns. The company’s cameras have also been deployed in Uighur Muslim internment camps in China, and have consequently been associated with human rights abuses against the minority population.

In Britain, Members of Parliament have called for a similar ban of Hikvision technology, and the UK Ministry of Defense has advised businesses not to use the company’s equipment. However, a Hikvision spokesperson noted that the government has thus far declined to issue a full ban.

IPVM is a watchdog organization that studies and evaluates surveillance equipment. It previously sounded the alarm about a joint Huawei and Megvii system that would send an alert to authorities whenever it spots a member of the Uighur Muslim group, which would in theory enable ethnic profiling on an unprecedented scale.

In England, IPVM sent investigators into nine of the 35 Southern Co-op stores that currently have facial recognition tech, and found that all nine of those stores were running Hikvision cameras. In 2020, Southern Co-op claimed that it had no plans to expand its facial recognition network beyond the initial 18 stores.

The Facewatch system allows administrators to add new faces to a watchlist of unwelcome individuals. Those faces are stored in a Facewatch database for a two-year period, though the company says that it deletes any faces that don’t generate a match. Southern Co-op stated that it does not share images with any other third-parties.

Police departments in Staffordshire, Leicestershire and West Midlands have also used Hikvision computer vision cameras. The Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner for England and Wales has defended the police use of the technology, though he suggested that that use needed to be ethical to maintain trust with the public.

Source: Daily Mail

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