SBB uses cameras for facial recognition
Quickly buying a coffee to go and a sandwich before the next train leaves - a normal action performed by tens of thousands of travelers in Switzerland every day. Anonymously. Until now. Because SBB is planning large-scale camera surveillance in numerous Swiss train stations starting in September. And the whole thing happens without the consent of the passengers.
Camera surveillance by the SBB: What’s behind it
In just a few months, travelers at Swiss train stations will be closely monitored when they quickly buy a journal at the newsstand or a portion of fries at the nearest snack bar. Starting in September 2023, the Swiss Federal Railways plans to monitor passers-by on a large scale at its stations. The reason given by SBB is an increase in the so-called "skimming rate". In plain language, this means that travelers should spend more money in the shops.
SBB states that the aim of the monitoring action is to analyze the purchasing behavior of passengers. There is a simple calculation behind it. Store owners who make higher sales have to pay SBB a higher rent. With the help of camera surveillance, SBB wants to determine who buys what and in what quantities at the station.
Hidden surveillance technology: kick-off in Schaffhausen
The first cameras are to be installed at Schaffhausen station. Gradually, more than 50 SBB stations are to follow. The project is made particularly explosive by the use of hidden surveillance technology. SBB makes no secret of the fact that the cameras will be well camouflaged and invisible to passengers with the naked eye. High-resolution cameras capable of facial recognition will be used.
The following list reveals which data is to be evaluated with the help of the recordings:
- Height, age, gender
- Items carried (travel bag, suitcase, stroller, etc.)
- Length of stay of passengers at the station
- Distances covered
- Behavior in the station stores
- Stores visited
- Amounts of money spent in the station stores
The data is stored in a cloud. In addition to SBB, store tenants will also be able to use the data. If you put two and two together, the analyses can be used to create complete movement and behavior profiles.
The silent farewell to data protection?
Given the extent of the planned monitoring, the question of data protection automatically arises, and SBB sees no problem with this. According to the company, there will be no link to data that allows conclusions to be drawn about a specific person. It is also not planned to link the data to the SBB app or SwissPass.
The Federal Data Protection Commissioner Adrian Lobsiger already made it clear to the Federal Railway that he expects a clear data protection concept. Literally, he said that there is a "considerable risk to the personality of passers-by" because of the planned surveillance. It will be interesting to see what the Swiss population thinks of the SBB's planned surveillance campaign.