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Facewatch to stop using Hikvision amid controversy over UK retail biometrics

Facewatch to stop using Hikvision amid controversy over UK retail biometrics

Retailers across the UK are increasingly turning to facial recognition technology to combat shoplifting amid a rise in thefts and police inaction. Who the cameras they use are manufactured by has become the latest flashpoint in an ongoing controversy.

According to the British Retail Consortium, shoplifting incidents increased from 2.9 million in 2016/17 to 7.9 million last year — with costs almost doubling from £503 million (approximately US$618.5 million) to £953 million ($1.17 billion).

Further, Daniel Garnham, president of the Security Industry Federation and ex-police officer, told the Daily Mail that police usually do not prioritize arresting individuals for shoplifting items worth less than £200.

To combat these issues, some retailers are using a system from Facewatch. The Mail also reports that Facewatch uses Chinese-made cameras from Hikvision, which has been the subject of extensive controversy in the UK and elsewhere.

In response, the founder of FaceWatch, Simon Gordon, tells Biometric Update in an email that the company no longer will “use Hik cameras for new installs anymore and has never used Chinese FR algorithms.”

Further, Tesco, the UK’s largest retailer, has banned Hikvision cameras, and those from Dahua, over human rights concerns and is replacing them, according to an IPVM report.

This significant move sends a message to other businesses, with rights groups vowing to pressure others to follow suit.

Facewatch’s system uses biometric cameras to scan the faces of those who enter a shop. If a match is found with a suspected criminal, the technology immediately alerts the shop. Staff can also keep images of people they reasonably suspect are guilty of theft or other crimes and upload them onto a ‘watchlist’ shared with other shops using Facewatch cameras, some of which may be supplied by Hikvision.

All images of subjects of interest are stored for a fixed time period in the Facewatch database unless it is believed that the suspect has committed another offense. All other images are deleted. The facial recognition software works by matching real-time images to a template generated from a previous photograph of a person.

There is controversy surrounding the use of biometrics on cameras from any provider to prevent shoplifting. Big Brother Watch launched a legal challenge last year with the Information Commissioner’s Office arguing that Facewatch breaches data protection laws.

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