Facial recognition cases could be on the rise - lawyer says

A Dunedin man was mistakenly identified as a shoplifter through facial recognition technology at a supermarket.
A Dunedin man was mistakenly identified as a shoplifter through facial recognition technology at a supermarket. Photo credit: Getty

A privacy lawyer says she expects the number of cases where people have been falsely accused of shoplifting due to facial recognition technology to rise. 

The comment comes after a Dunedin man was mistakenly identified as a shoplifter at a Dunedin New World.

The supermarket chain, owned by Foodstuff, uses facial recognition CCTV footage in some of its North Island stores - and employed software company Auror at the Dunedin New World.

Christchurch civil litigation, employment and privacy lawyer Kathryn Dalziel says the technology "will be one to watch".

She says she hasn't represented any clients that have been falsely identified by this technology but expects she will in the future.

"It hasn't come across my desk yet but it will," she said.

"It's the same thing that applies to anybody falsely convicted - it can be totally questioned."

In order for the technology to sustain a conviction it has to be heavily tested, she says.

"They have to be really confident they've got the right person."

In accordance with the Privacy Act, supermarkets must have clear signage when this technology is being used so people are aware their photos are being taken, Ms Dalziel says.

She said personally if that was the case she would probably change supermarkets.

"Not that I have something to hide, I just don't have the time to defend myself... I've got nothing to hide, I wouldn't risk my entire career on a apple."

If someone is falsely accused or if they have had a previous shoplifting conviction, it's the same process as with any other conviction.

"Seek legal advice. A lawyer will then go through the options if there is something that can support a conviction," Ms Dalziel said.

Foodstuffs head of external relations Antoinette Laird said "like all other retailers, we take theft and the safety of our customers and staff very seriously".

She says multiple strategies are used to protect people, customers and products.

"Where CCTV (which may include facial recognition technology) is used in our stores, signage alerts customers to the fact images may be taken, as per privacy requirements."

"Footage can only be used for the purpose it is intended, which is as a deterrent and tool against theft, and as a means of keeping customers and staff safe."

The Auror system, minus facial recognition, is deployed in a number of our South Island stores, Ms Laird says. While it doesn't automatically recognise faces, it did capture images and license plate numbers. 

"The real benefit here is that the technology greatly assists store security in identifying, monitoring and potentially excluding people with a history of shoplifting," Ms Laird said.

"CCTV helps reduce the risk of falsely accusing innocent customers of theft and can assist the police in their investigations, should it be required. Facial recognition is simply a more accurate version of CCTV."

An Auror spokesman says the cmpany offered a software service that made it easy for store security and loss prevention teams to keep track of incidents that occured in store, and then report it to the police. 

Auror does not develop its own facial recognition system.


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