Co-op supermarkets are using facial recognition cameras made by a Chinese state-owned company to track its shoppers, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
The ethical food retailer is using Hikvision’s live facial recognition technology to monitor customers.
Hikvision cameras have been listed as a national security threat in the US while the UK’s Ministry of Defence has issued guidance not to use the company’s equipment.
And the firm has been blacklisted by US authorities over links to human rights abuses against Muslim Uighurs in China while MPs have called for a UK-wide ban.
But at Southern Co-op bosses have rolled out facial recognition technology across 35 stores in the south of England.
Co-op are set to use facial recognition cameras made by Chinese state-owned company Hikvision in 35 supermarkets across south England. Pictured: Co-op store in central London
An investigation by video surveillance researchers at IPVM, and passed to the Mail on Sunday, found that all nine stores out of the 35 it investigated used Hikvision facial recognition devices.
Live facial recognition is used by Co-op at stores in Southampton, Portsmouth, West London, Bristol and Chichester.
The supermarket’s system is provided by Facewatch, a live facial recognition company which says it helps retailers catch shoplifters and violent customers.
Facewatch says it keeps a database of the faces of ‘subjects of interest’ for two years, though facial recognition technology is known to return large numbers of false matches.
The company also claims unmatched faces are ‘deleted instantly’.
Fraser Sampson, the Government’s independent Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner for England and Wales, warned of the importance of ‘ethical leadership’ in relation to facial recognition technology.
He said: ‘I was asked to do an interview with Facewatch this week in which I addressed the importance of ethical practice – individual and corporate – if we are to retain public trust and confidence in the legitimate use of facial recognition generally.
Hikvision cameras (one is pictured) have been listed as a national security threat in the US while the UK’s Ministry of Defence has issued guidance not to use the company’s equipment
‘I also spoke about the importance of ethical leadership in this area which I believe involves not only responding to challenge but actively inviting it.
‘I have publicly raised a number of pertinent questions with Hikvision several months ago.
‘So far their answer has said very little but their response tells people a lot’.
Authorities in the US fear the companies’ camera technology present a national security concern because of their Chinese state ownership, which the firms’ bosses strongly deny.
Hikvision’s cameras have been also widely used in the repression of the Muslim minority Uighurs in China, including inside internment camps.
Conservative MP Alicia Kearns, of the China Research Group, said: ‘I understand that high-tech security cameras are important for shops like Co-Op.
‘Using cameras from a company like Hikvision isn’t the answer. A company complicit in the genocide of the Uyghur, and surveiling the concentration camps in Xinjiang.
‘The Co-Op must rip this technology from their shops or risk giving the Chinese Government a map of each and every one of our faces, endangering us all.’
The MoS has also uncovered that police forces are using Chinese state-made cameras to track vehicles on the roads.
Hikvision’s cameras have been widely used in the repression of the Muslim minority Uighurs in China, including inside internment camps. Pictured: Hikvision face-recognition camera
Staffordshire, Leicestershire and West Midlands Police all use Hikvision cameras for their automatic number plate recognition technology, leading to security concerns, while others use the firm’s CCTV equipment.
A Southern Co-op spokeswoman said: ‘No facial images from the Southern Co-op platform are shared with any other organisation.
‘Our limited and targeted use of this technology is only where there is a high level of crime and is used to protect our store colleagues from assaults and violence.
‘Our process uses a combination of facial recognition technology and human verification. If a facial image match takes place upon store entry, these are flagged as an alert to the store or duty manager and then validated by a colleague in store.’
A Hikvision spokesman said: ‘Hikvision is committed to upholding the right to privacy and protecting people and their property.
‘The UK Government recently rejected a call for Hikvision to be banned from the United Kingdom. We remain resolute in our mission to enhance safety for all.’