Supermarket chain silent on facial recognition

Foodstuffs is refusing to divulge whether its use of facial recognition security camera technology has spread to the South Island.

The supermarket giant revealed last year facial recognition CCTV technology was used in some North Island stores, but not in the South.

That disclosure followed Otago Daily Times inquiries about a Dunedin man who said he was mistakenly identified as a shoplifter at Centre City New World.

Foodstuffs head of external relations Antoinette Laird said at the time "human error'' led to the man being wrongly identified.

Asked last year if Centre City New World was using a facial recognition surveillance system, Ms Laird said the technology was used in some of its stores, but none in Dunedin.

"A handful of stores in the North Island have facial recognition CCTV technology as part of their security system.

"We cannot provide specific store detail.''

The company was not so forthcoming when contacted last week.

It ignored emails and did not respond to phone calls for several days, before Ms Laird eventually responded via email on Monday morning.

"We have no desire to respond on this.

"It's a thanks but no thanks from us :)''

Ms Laird did not respond to further questions regarding whether the public had a right to know if the controversial technology was or was not in use at specific stores.

Foodstuffs owns the Four Square, New World and Pak'n Save supermarket brands.

Facial recognition technology is widely used by retailers overseas.

The Guardian has reported 59% of fashion retailers in the United Kingdom use facial tracking, which captures the faces of shoppers, before cross-referencing their biometric data with known criminals to identify potential shoplifters.

The technology is also prevalent in China, where local governments use it to track people in public places.

Last year, the Independent revealed the (London) Metropolitan Police Service's facial recognition system generated false positives in more than 98% of alerts.

A spokesman for the Privacy Commissioner last year urged anyone unhappy about having their face automatically identified to speak up.

"We would expect to see signage and messages informing customers that the technology is in use, and what their information will be used for.

"If individuals feel their privacy has been breached by this technology, they should complain to the supermarket first. If they are unsatisfied with the outcome of that complaint, they can complain to our office.''


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