Until recently, AI, or Artificial Intelligence was something only seen in the movies. Films showed a vision of the future where technology was used to track an individual, even in a crowd, by scanning the faces passing by a camera.
Disturbingly, this technology is now in common usage, and has even been installed in a number of co-op supermarkets in the South of England. In one Portsmouth store, a camera is fastened to the ceiling and is monitoring customers who enter the store. The biometric camera looks at faces and compares them to a database of suspects, in this case shoplifters who have been added to a watchlist.
In July, civil liberties group Big Brother Watch filed a complaint to the U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office against Southern Co-op and Facewatch – the company providing the surveillance system.
A biometric profile is produced of every customer who enters a store or other establishment using Facewatch’s technology. Customers can be added to a Facewatch list of “subjects of interest” if staff have good reason to believe they are committing a crime, such as shoplifting or disruptive conduct. The police are permitted to submit photos and data to Facewatch’s system, according to the policy notice.
The Facewatch system automatically shares a person’s data with ‘any client within an eight-mile radius in London, a 15-mile radius in other cities and a 43-mile radius in very rural areas’ according to Big Brother Watch. The data of ‘subjects of interest’ can be stored for up to two years. That data includes a picture of the suspected person’s face, their name and a short summary of their suspected offense.
“Nothing to hide, nothing to fear,” supporters of this intrusive technology may say. But using the technology in this way is against privacy and data protection laws. How long before our political masters start using biometric cameras to track political dissidents or environmental protesters?
In another step along that slippery slope, the Home Office launched a trial last week that will see supermarkets across the UK implement AI facial estimation software to judge if a customer is old enough to buy alcohol. We have been warned.
Main Image: Image by succo from Pixabay.
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