Japanese Retailers May Share Biometric Data of Shoplifters

Japanese Retailers May Share Biometric Data of ShopliftersFacial recognition technology is increasingly being adopted by business in Japan, and that’s cause for concern about privacy issues, according to an article by Masako Wakae and Yomiuri Shimbun on The Japan News.

Such concerns are proving particularly worrisome as a the National Shoplifting Prevention Organization, a nonprofit group, considers sharing the facial biometric data of alleged shoplifters with numerous retailers. According to the article, businesses in Japan started installing such biometric systems about five years ago, and while some have publicly reported it, most have not.

There are two clear reasons why it could prove problematic. One is that the Japanese government is considering passing a law that would forbid the sharing of “sensitive personal information” such as information connected to crimes, which could render the NSPO’s plan illegal. Another issue is the accuracy of the technology; the article’s authors assert that while “the rate of recognition is 99.7 percent at best”, the consequences for a wrongly identified individual could be very serious.

One could argue that one solution to the latter problem would be to simply improve technological accuracy, but the larger issues around privacy rights would nevertheless remain. There has already been a public uproar in the UK over law enforcement agencies’ collection and storage of facial biometric data, even in cases in which subjects were cleared of any wrongdoing; and the article’s authors point to Facebook’s caution in introducing its facial recognition tagging feature, which has nevertheless landed the company in a class action lawsuit. These kinds of issues highlight the need for a wider public discussion on biometrics and privacy – one that is in the interest not only of the public, but of the industry, which in no way benefits from legal and PR troubles.

April 17, 2015 – by Alex Perala