High Street giant makes controversial new change to catch shoplifters that could breach privacy of all customers | The Sun

SPORTS Direct now uses facial recognition cameras to catch shoplifters.

The controversial technology has been installed in at least 12 UK stores in a bid to crack down on a thieving "epidemic".

It scans the face of every customer and checks them against a database of criminals.

Artificial intelligence then alerts staff if it spots a potential offender so they can closely monitor them, escort them out or call the police.

Biometric images of anyone who could be a "subject of interest" are uploaded to a "watchlist", can be shared with other shops up to 46 miles away and are kept on file for 12 months. All other photos are deleted.

While protecting Sport Direct owner Mike Ashley's pockets from financial losses from stolen goods, critics say the "Orwellian surveillance" breaches shoppers' privacy.


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Data protection laws state that companies must use the technology and process the personal information it gathers "fairly and transparently" as it collects it "on a mass scale and without individual's choice or control".

The Information Commissioner's Office is investigating whether the use of such Big Brother-style cameras like Facewatch is lawful, The Mail on Sunday reports.

In its promotional material, Facewatch claims its GDPR-compliant service can reduce crime by 35 per cent in retail settings in the first year of operation.

According to the British Retail Consortium, shoplifting rates increased almost three-fold since 2016/17, from 2.9million incidents to 7.9 last year.

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The cost to retailers almost doubled from £503m to £953m in the same period – but cops say offenders who nab items worth less than £200 are "low priority" and are rarely arrested.

Former Met Detective Chief Inspector David McKelvey claims most managers don't bother calling the police when they fall victim.

Frasers Group also oversees Jack Wills, GAME, Flannels, USC, House of Fraser, Frasers, Lillywhites, Sofa.com, Everlast and Evans Cycles.

As well as Sports Direct, facial recognition cameras have been fitted in 13 Flannels shops and two branches of USC.

A spokesperson said the cameras "ensure the safety of our staff and help prevent theft".

At least 34 shops owned by Southern Co-op, including Spar, Nisa, Costcutter and Budgens, also use the technology.

Ray Walsh, a digital privacy expert at the software company ProPrivacy, said in 2020: "It is vital that biometrics that are harvested to compare faces to databases of known shoplifters are treated so that they comply with data protection regulations.

"Facial recognition scans create a biometric map of an individual's face, and that mathematical representation of the face can potentially be used to track a person time and time again in any number of different locations."

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