Your Face Could Be Getting Scanned As You Shop

Major supermarkets such as John Lewis, Co-op, Waitrose, Next, Tesco, and Sainsbury’s are joining forces with the police in a new data-sharing initiative called Project Pegasus. These retailers are collectively contributing £600,000 to fund the operation.

Face Scanning & the Law

Upon entry to participating stores, customers will encounter cameras that scan their faces, checking them against a database of known shoplifters. Simon Gordon, chief executive of Facewatch, the company behind the technology, said the cameras filter through hundreds of faces each day. “If you’re not a known shoplifter, the computer finds nothing. All data and video footage get deleted immediately.”

Real-Time Alerts to Store Managers

When the system identifies a match, it immediately alerts the store manager and provides a photo of the suspect. A store employee then subtly tails the individual through the store, ready to offer help as necessary.

A New Way to Share Data

Project Pegasus aims to strengthen ties between retailers and the police. The project will use data specialists to sift through CCTV, incident reports, and body-cam footage to identify patterns and criminal activity.

Katy Bourne, Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex, who chairs the project, said this marks a significant shift. “For the first time ever, the police will get a complete picture across the country of where these gangs are hitting different areas.”

Concerns Over Civil Liberties

Fraser Sampson, the biometrics and surveillance camera commissioner, expressed reservations about the collaboration between private companies and the state. “There’s a different public appetite for using technology to screen out crime compared to when it’s used for law enforcement,” he said.

Madeleine Stone of Big Brother Watch voiced similar concerns. “We urgently need a lawful approach to the role of facial biometrics in Britain, but Parliament hasn’t even debated it,” she commented.

How Effective Is It?


Simon Gordon of Facewatch believes his technology boosts store security and curtails aggression toward employees. “All we’re doing is giving stores a better chance to prevent crime,” he stated.

Officials believe that organised crime gangs, rather than petty thefts, mainly account for the increased shoplifting in England and Wales.

AI & Crime Prevention

AI surveillance serves as a cost-effective response to shoplifting, according to Facewatch’s Gordon. “Normal customers aren’t going to be tracked and traced. The idea that they are is complete nonsense,” he assured.

The Human Element

The police concede that limited resources make handling shoplifting a tough task. Richard Walker, Iceland’s executive chairman, stated, “Shoplifters know the police very rarely attend.”

Fund Provision & Support

Retailers are putting their money behind Project Pegasus, with contributions reaching up to £600,000 from some. The Home Office is also providing funds.

A spokesperson for the John Lewis Partnership welcomed the partnership. “Retail crime is not victimless. It affects partners, customers, and even prices. We’re excited to work with the police to keep everyone safe,” they said.

The Question of Public Consent

Questions still linger about public acceptance of these surveillance methods. Privacy advocates and legal professionals argue for a lawful and democratic application of facial biometrics in Britain.

China’s Hikvision Under Scrutiny

Hikvision, Britain’s largest provider of security cameras, faces criticism. The company has been blacklisted in the US and banned from sensitive sites in the UK. But existing cameras continue to operate in stores like Tesco and the Co-op.

Project Pegasus kicks off a fresh era of teamwork between retailers and law enforcement, laser-focused on nabbing shoplifters. It does however make one wonder how much of our personal data gets scanned, stored, and scrutinised without our knowledge. Are we trading our privacy for a more secure shopping trip?