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UK police, retailers partner to fight shoplifting with biometrics

UK police, retailers partner to fight shoplifting with biometrics

British police have turned to facial recognition to fight shoplifting.

The country’s largest retailers have agreed to fund a new biometric police operation that matches CCTV images of shoplifters with those in a national police database.

The effort, dubbed Project Pegasus, will be financed to the tune of £600,000 (US$752,000) by 10 supermarkets and retailers, including John Lewis, Co-op, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Next, The Times reports.

UK policing minister Chris Philp has also promised to draw up a target list of prolific shoplifters to create a national face biometrics database that can be circulated to retailers and police forces across the country.

“It’ll be a game changer for policing because for the first time ever, policing will get a complete picture across the country of where these gangs are hitting different areas and they’ll have that data and intelligence to be able to put that out to local police forces to go after those gangs,” says Katy Bourne, the police and crime commissioner for Sussex.

The goal of Pegasus is to crack down on shoplifting cases which have soared over the past year with criticism mounting against the police for failing to take the incidents seriously. In response, Philp has been pushing for facial recognition use in all police forces nationally, despite persistent criticism of the technology.

In August, Philp urged the police to use live facial recognition in prosecuting shoplifters while ministers supported expanding the use of the software beyond the Metropolitan Police and South Wales Police, the only forces that do so regularly.

The policing minister and the UK Home Office, however, have also been accused by privacy advocacy Big Brother Watch of lobbying for biometric security supplier Facewatch. Although human rights groups and some remain skeptical, UK retailers are drawn to facial recognition, with some vendors promising a return on investment (ROI) within three years.

The British Retail Consortium claims there were eight million cases of shoplifting in the 12 months ending in February, costing retailers nearly £1 billion (US$1.2 billion) a year. The police recorded only 339,206 cases in the 12 months to March. The shoplifting is often performed by organized gangs targeting luxury retail items.

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