Leisure firm told scanning staff faces is illegal

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The data watchdog has ordered a leisure centre group to stop using facial recognition tech to monitor its staff.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) says Serco Leisure has been unlawfully processing the biometric data of more than 2,000 employees at 38 UK leisure facilities.

It did so to check staff attendance – a practice the ICO said was “neither fair nor proportionate”.

Serco Leisure says it will comply with the enforcement notice.

But it added it had taken legal advice prior to installing the cameras, and said staff had not complained about them during the five years they had been in place.

The firm said it was to “make clocking-in and out easier and simpler” for workers.

“We engaged with our team members in advance of its roll-out and its introduction was well-received by colleagues,” the company said in a statement.

The ICO said the company’s staff – who also have their fingerprints scanned – had not been offered a clear alternative to the gathering of their biometric data.

It also found the firm had failed to show why the practice was necessary when there were less intrusive ways of monitoring staff attendance, such as ID cards or fobs.

John Edwards, the UK Information Commissioner, said Serco Leisure had increased the “power imbalance in the workplace”, and left employees feeling like they had no choice but to hand over their biometric data.

“Serco Leisure did not fully consider the risks before introducing biometric technology to monitor staff attendance, prioritising business interests over its employees’ privacy,” he said.

“Biometric data is wholly unique to a person so the risks of harm in the event of inaccuracies or a security breach are much greater – you can’t reset someone’s face or fingerprint like you can reset a password.,” he added.

The ICO announced it was publishing new guidance for all organisations that are considering using employees’ biometric data, showing them how to comply with data protection law.

The technology is deeply controversial, with privacy campaigners saying it infringes people’s rights, especially as artificial intelligence makes the systems more powerful.

However, law enforcement and some businesses say it is a precise and efficient way of keeping people safe and catching criminals.

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