Mall of America arms itself with facial recognition tech, sparking fears over surveillance

The Mall of America, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and servicing over 40 million visitors each year, has decided to install facial recognition cameras on its premises to keep guests safe.

Gun violence is on the rise in Minneapolis. There were over 2,000 shootings between 2014 and 2023, as per The Trace, a website monitoring gun violence incidents in the US. As a result, 510 people were killed and 2,138 people injured.

One of the deadly shootings happened in the Mall of America, said to be the largest shopping mall in the US with over 520 stores. Just two days before Christmas, two groups of teenagers got into a fight in a shopping mall, sending the mall into lockdown and its visitors into panic as they had to hide in the stores seeking shelter. The shooting fatally injured one 19-year-old. This May, Taeshawn Adams-Wright, 19, was sentenced to more than 30 years in prison for murder, and other defendants are awaiting trial.

In an effort to boost its security, the Mall of America has partnered with Corsight AI, which provides facial recognition systems to detect trespassers, threats, and missing persons.

The shopping mall installed surveillance cameras capable of scanning people’s faces in real-time and matching them with the database of persons of interest (POI) – individuals deemed by law enforcement as dangerous or missing or banned by the mall itself.

“The technology is only looking for matches to the POI photos. If an individual is not a match, no data is stored. This technology does not track or keep any information on non-POIs. If there is a match to a POI photo, the software system issues an alert, which triggers further investigation by the security team,” the Mall of America stated.

If such an individual enters the mall, its security team gets an alert and allegedly “conducts a thorough investigation” before taking any further action.

“Our security team prides itself on keeping everyone who walks through our doors safe so we can provide the best possible guest experience,” Will Bernhjelm, Vice President of Security at Mall of America, is quoted as saying.

Since the mall is 5.6 million square feet, he insisted there can’t be enough security guards everywhere, and technology is necessary to ensure visitor safety.

However, facial recognition technology in public spaces is a controversial issue as it is known to be more biased toward people of color. The technology has mistakenly identified people as shoplifters and even led to wrongful arrests. And that’s just on top of the fact that they erode privacy and normalize surveillance.

In a statement to the press, the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Minnesota, emphasized that facial recognition algorithms might have “ much higher

rates of false positives for black men than white men”.

“Thousands of Minnesotans and Americans visit MOA [Mall of America] and this technology could lead to greater data harvesting where your image could be added to unknown databases. Remember that in order to catch the “bad guys” with facial recognition, you need to surveil everyone. This wholesale search and tracking without probable cause or consent poses a threat to some of our most fundamental civil liberties,” they said.