Co-op stores using risky Chinese facial recognition technology to track their shoppers

Facial recognition technology, made by a Chinese state-owned company that is currently listed as a security threat by the Ministry of Defence, has been rolled out into more than 30 Co-op stores in England. The food retailer is using Hikvision’s live facial recognition cameras to track its customers in stores over the south of England.
Hikvision cameras have been listed as a national security threat in the US while the UK’s Ministry of Defence has issued guidance not to use the company’s equipment.
And the firm has been blacklisted by US authorities over links to human rights abuses against Muslim Uighurs in China while MPs have called for a UK-wide ban, as reported by The Mail On Sunday.
The facial recognition technology from Hikvisionis paired with Facewatch, a company that says it helps retailers catch shoplifters and violent customers. Facewatch says it keeps a database of the faces of ‘subjects of interest’ for two years, though facial recognition technology is known to return large numbers of false matches.
Fraser Sampson, the Government’s independent Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner for England and Wales, warned of the importance of ‘ethical leadership’ in relation to facial recognition technology.
He said when speaking to The Mail on Sunday: “I was asked to do an interview with Facewatch this week in which I addressed the importance of ethical practice – individual and corporate – if we are to retain public trust and confidence in the legitimate use of facial recognition generally.
“I also spoke about the importance of ethical leadership in this area which I believe involves not only responding to challenge but actively inviting it. I have publicly raised a number of pertinent questions with Hikvision several months ago. So far their answer has said very little but their response tells people a lot”.
Authorities in the US fear the companies’ camera technology present a national security concern because of their Chinese state ownership, which the firms’ bosses strongly deny.
Hikvision’s cameras and facial recognition technology have been also widely used in the repression of the Muslim minority Uighurs in China, including inside internment camps.
Conservative MP Alicia Kearns, of the China Research Group, said: “I understand that high-tech security cameras are important for shops like Co-Op. Using cameras from a company like Hikvision isn’t the answer. A company complicit in the genocide of the Uyghur, and surveilling the concentration camps in Xinjiang. The Co-Op must rip this technology from their shops or risk giving the Chinese Government a map of each and every one of our faces, endangering us all.”

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Claire Gordon


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