Book store puts face-scanning plan on ice

Book shoppers in London can breathe easier: Big Brother isn't lurking between the shelves. Not yet, anyway.

Bookstore chain Borders Group Inc. has temporarily suspended a trial plan to implement FaceIt face recognition software in two stores in the U.K. capital, pending a review of legal and human rights issues, spokeswoman Jenny Carlen said.

The software, sold by Visionics Corp., fights shoplifting by constantly comparing images of shoppers captured by a store video camera against a police database of known criminals, according to information on Visionics' Web site. If no match is found, the images taken in the store are then discarded.

U.K. imaging specialist Dectel Security Ltd. has implemented the system in the London borough of Newham, which achieved a 34 percent reduction in crime in two years, according to Visionics. Dectel announced in April that police in Birmingham City Centre had also installed the system.

But the growing use of face-scanning technology for crime control in the U.K. has run up against criticism from privacy and human rights advocates.

"We've suspended any plans to implement it until we can confirm what's going on with Dectel and the human rights issues that have been raised," said Carlen. "And even then we may decide it's in the best interest of our customers not to go ahead with the trial."

She said the pilot project had been initiated by officials at Borders' U.K. branch, and referred a reporter to Managing Director Philip Downer, who could not be reached Monday due to a public holiday in the U.K.

A spokesman for Visionics did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

The pilot plan had called for installation of the system in the chain's Charing Cross and Oxford Street stores, Carlen said.

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Rick Perera

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