Southern Co-op is using live facial recognition cameras in 18 Portsmouth stores

CONTROVERSIAL live facial recognition cameras are being used in nearly 20 Co-op stores in Portsmouth.
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Cameras take biometric scans of shoppers when they walk in, checking it against a watchlist drawn together by the chain and private firm Facewatch.

Images taken by Co-op are used to detect shoplifters and people involved in anti-social behaviour, and can be used to help enforce bans.

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The Southern Co-op said it was using the technology in 18 shops ‘where there is a higher level of crime’ in a bid to protect staff.

Co-op in Copnor Road, Copnor, Portsmouth, on January 13. Picture: Habibur RahmanCo-op in Copnor Road, Copnor, Portsmouth, on January 13. Picture: Habibur Rahman
Co-op in Copnor Road, Copnor, Portsmouth, on January 13. Picture: Habibur Rahman

It faced fierce criticism in December but civil liberties group Big Brother Watch has now revealed all the stores using the tech are in Portsmouth.

Police previously told The News the chain was heavily targeted in the city, including in the first national lockdown where violent shoplifting crimes increased.

Court of Appeal judges have last year ruled police use of the same type of technology was unlawful.

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Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch said: ‘The Co-op’s use of Orwellian facial recognition surveillance abuses customers’ rights and trashes the company’s ‘ethical’ branding.

‘The supermarket is adding customers to secret watchlists with no due process, many of whom will find themselves blacklisted despite being innocent or having spent convictions. This is an atrocious way for any business to behave.

‘The best way to protect staff and prevent theft is to report crimes to the police, rather than expect staff to act like police using invasive biometric surveillance.

‘The Southern Co-op’s use of live face surveillance raises major legal concerns and, if maintained, is likely to result in a legal challenge. If the company is serious about respecting customers’ rights and concern for the community, it should drop its facial recognition cameras immediately.’

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A store in Isambard Brunel Road was closed in December 2019 due to ‘rising crime’.

Staff at the Co-op store in Winston Churchill Avenue were issued with body-worn cameras in November last year.

Mark Ralf, chair of the group, said in his annual report statement that staff were facing a ‘significant increase in intimidation and the use of violence with weapons against our colleagues’.

Images are not stored unless someone has been identified as a repeated offender, Co-op said.

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A Co-op spokeswoman yesterday said: ‘We have focused the use of facial recognition in 18 Portsmouth branches where there is a higher level of crime.

‘We're working hard to protect our store colleagues but this is not at the expense of our customers rights.’

Full list of Co-op stores using facial recognition technology

Elm Grove, Southsea.

Copnor Road, Copnor.

Havant Road, Drayton.

Eastney Road, Eastney.

Fawcett Road, Southsea;

Francis Avenue, Southsea;

Great Southsea Street, Southsea.

Highland Road, Southsea.

New Road, Buckland.

Northern Parade, Hilsea.

Park Lane, Leigh Park.

White Hart Lane, Portchester.

London Road, Purbrook.

The Hard, Portsea.

Tregaron Avenue, Cosham

Twyford Avenue, Stamshaw.

St Albans Road, West Leigh, Havant.

Winter Road, Southsea.

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