Privacy lawyer says use of supermarket facial recognition software will lead to court action - and cost taxpayers money

A privacy lawyer says Foodstuffs' use of facial recognition software in its supermarkets in New Zealand will lead to court, where it will cost taxpayers money through legal aid.

Foodstuffs, which operates New World, Pak'n'Save and Four Square brands, has admitted it uses facial recognition software in some of its store to help staff to identify repeat shoplifters.

Privacy lawyer Kathryn Dalziel, speaking this morning to TVNZ1's Breakfast, said sooner or later the use of the software will lead to court cases, which will cost the public money through legal aid.

She also said it would be good for Foodstuffs to have carried out a Privacy Impact Statement regarding the technology, and to post that information on their website for everyone to see.

"I'm very concerned about what they're doing," Ms Dalziel said.

She said that using CCTV for deterrance is usually the best bet, and that people finding out Foodstuffs is tracking their face could lead to "deterrence of customers generally".

Ms Dalziel also pointed out that many times the CCTV software produced inaccurate results, and that "you shouldn't use information about people unless were satisfied it's accurate".


Foodstuffs has told the Otago Daily Times it makes no apology for protecting its business.

"Theft is a growing problem, as is the increase in aggressive behaviour towards our staff ... there is no shortage of incidents resulting in significant harm and sadly, in a recent tragic case, death.

"We use multiple strategies to protect our people, customers and product and we make no apology for this.

"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.

"This system does not include facial recognition but does capture images and licence plate numbers, enabling our loss prevention staff to identify offenders more easily and get on top of theft.

"Some stores in the North Island use a system which includes facial recognition technology.

"The system requires store security to identify the individual as trespassed from the store or as a person known to have shoplifted in our stores, and manually input the information into the system – they will then be picked up by the CCTV on future visits.

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

"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."

Kathryn Dalziel says the Privacy Commission is already looking into Foodstuffs’ use of facial recognition software in some of its stores. Source: Breakfast