Posted on 29 Oct 2023

  • More than a dozen rights groups write to retail bosses over expansion of facial recognition technology
  • Groups warn shops that tech and policing won’t tackle root causes of shoplifting
  • Retailers urged to respect customers’ rights 

Rights groups have called on shop bosses to reject the Government’s expansion of facial recognition technology in response to rises in shoplifting.

The groups, which include Liberty and Amnesty International UK alongside privacy and anti-poverty organisations, have urged retailers to instead put pressure on the Government to tackle the root causes of shoplifting – poverty and the cost-of-living crisis.

The calls are in response to Project Pegasus, a Government scheme which will involve police running CCTV images from shops through facial recognition technology in a bid to tackle shoplifting.

But in a letter to CEOs of shops involved in the scheme – including Tesco, Next and Boots – rights groups have warned that taking part in the scheme would undermine their customers’ privacy rights and expose them to  unnecessary and intimidating police surveillance as they go about their daily lives.

The groups highlighted the impact the cost-of-living crisis is having, with 1 in 10 young people saying they have shoplifted in a bid to cope. The cost of basic food items like bread, butter and cheese have risen in price by over 30% in the past year alongside skyrocketing energy, housing and fuel costs.

The letter urges retailers to lead by example by working with the Government to meaningfully address the cost-of-living crisis so that everyone has the resources they need.

Emmanuelle Andrews, Liberty policy and campaigns manager, said: “The Government cannot police its way out of the cost-of-living crisis. Those in power should be working to ensure families can pay their rent and feed their children – not ramping up the use of oppressive policing tools like facial recognition.

“The expansion of facial recognition technology in supermarkets is a threat to our rights, targets people affected by poverty, and fails to address the root causes of shoplifting. Surveillance tech like facial recognition monitors all of us as we go about our daily lives – and has in particular been used to discriminate against minority groups, and particularly people of colour. It has no place on our streets or in our shops.

“We should all be able to go to the shops without being monitored or harassed. We urge retail bosses to respect their customers’ rights, reject this tech and push the Government to support people who are struggling to survive with the cost-of-living crisis.”

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