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Reports sent into thisquality from a source wishing to remain anonymous, says that a worker they are friends with working at a South Island-based New World Supermarket is claiming the store is using a camera tracking system to detect number plates of vehicles entering and exiting the car park areas.
The purpose of the tracking systems is to make sure shoplifters can be caught in the act when stealing items from the store and driving off.
The system allegedly works by texting a managers phone or bosses phone when the camera detects a possible shoplifter by using number plate data to search for past crimes that may have happened associated to that person or owner of the vehicle.
The alleged text message supplied to thisquality by the anonymous source reads ‘LPR Alert’ which stands for License Plate Recognition [Software] showing a priority level — a plate number, make and model of vehicle, colour and alias or name of the vehicle owner.
There are programs and private companies in New Zealand that offer this service to governments and privately-owned companies or cooperations to transform license plate data into promising leads that close cases for authorities when crime arises.
Another camera tracking system goes by the name of ANPR, which stands for Automatic Number Plate Recognition where computers can recognise license plates. This can be useful in many scenarios.
For example, the ANPR system can automatically open gates or doors for authorised vehicles, alert unrecognised vehicles parking in a car spot or driveway, alert on unrecognised vehicles parking in reserved spots, traffic monitoring and recognition, lastly it can be used for car park usage monitoring.
During May of the year 2018, Supermarket chain Foodstuffs admitted to using facial recognition technology in some of their stores. They’d quietly rolled out facial recognition CCTV technology in some of its North Island stores without letting the public know, prior to admitting they used facial recognition tech, of course.
During August of 2020, In an Auckland supermarket, a poster was put up at New World Papakura asking customers to remove their face masks, hats, hoodies or sunglasses so they can be better scanned by the store’s facial recognition software when entering.
New World Papakura was enforcing the policy and making note that any bad behaviour or non-compliance would result in an instant trespass and police notification.
However, face masks were to be worn once inside the internal double doors.
The Privacy Commissioner warned about the use of secret surveillance techniques.
Following facial recognition, It was later found out because a man was mistakenly identified as a shoplifter at a New World supermarket in Dunedin.
Foodstuffs claimed facial recognition was not used in the South Island and only in the North Island as a ‘trial system’.
The Otago Daily Times revealed that a security system bridging businesses and authorities was being used at the Centre City New World in Dunedin, along with other stores around the area and in general; the South Island.
A mechanic named Daniel Ryan was told by staff shortly after entering the City Centre New World in Great King St, owned by Foodstuffs, that he was identified as a known shoplifter. According to the Otago Daily Times, Ryan was misidentified, and he received an apology by the store’s staff and the company.
Facial recognition technology is generally used by most retailers overseas.
The Guardian reported 59 per cent of fashion retailers in the United Kingdom using facial tracking, which captured the faces of shoppers, before the system or AI would start cross-referencing their data with known criminals.
China is also known to track people in public places, as per government surveillance programmes.
Foodstuffs own New World, Pak’N Save and Four Square supermarkets around New Zealand in the North and South Islands.
While Centre City New World claimed they do not use automatic facial recognition, after what Daniel Ryan went through, the store was using a security system called Auror.
Auror’s security system is for retail crime intelligence aiming to report, solve, and prevent crime in stores, for good.
Foodstuffs stores use the Auror system, which does not include facial recognition services for any retailers. This system captures images and license plate numbers. It allows for data sharing, including bridging that data with police or authorities to respond appropriately or be on standby from an alert of a potential shoplifter.
If the supermarket manager, owner, or person in charge orders the alert to be pursued, police will be directly available to get to the scene quickly.
Auror’s content and communications manager Kevin Ptak said in a statement that the software company gets images from existing CCTV cameras to track and prevent any possible repeat offenders shoplifting.
Farmers, Briscoes, and Mitre 10 are listed as clients on Auror’s security system back end. Many other retailers have also been subscribed to Auror’s network of the crime reduction security system to reduce shoplifting.
When New World and Foodstuffs were contacted under an OIA (Official Information Act 1982) on October 12 to confirm whether or not these systems were being used at the specific South Island store and other stores around the North and South Islands, as thisquality understands that after the 20 day period, we’ve not received any update or acknowledgement about the concern and use of the security systems.
thisquality will further be contacting the privacy commissioner, New World and Foodstuffs for further confirmation or comment to look for an answer in the coming weeks.
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