Breaking News
More () »

Portland gas station using facial recognition technology to curb crime

The sign above the door at the Southeast Grand Avenue Jacksons reads "Look at camera for entry. Facial recognition in use."

PORTLAND, Ore — Technology straight out of science-fiction is now in use at a gas station in Southeast Portland.

If you've been to the Jacksons on Southeast Grand Avenue, you may not have seen it. But it's most likely seen you. 

The company installed facial recognition technology there and at other stores. They say it's to prevent theft and potential danger by controlling who's allowed in.

But not everyone is excited about facial recognition technology outside of a convenience store.

There's a somewhat noticeable camera right above the entrance to the store. The idea is the camera recognizes the face of people caught for things like shoplifting and robbery at the store and doesn't allow them access inside.

Credit: KGW
Customers are directed to look at a camera before entering the store.

The sign next to the camera says "Look at camera for entry. Facial recognition in use." Regulars tell KGW they first noticed it a couple months ago.

When KGW's Morgan Romero tried it out Monday afternoon, she walked in looking straight ahead and the doors opened up.

KGW reached out to Jacksons Food Stores, Inc. corporate office in Idaho multiple times Monday to find out what time of day the software is in use, what crimes exactly get you banned from the store, or whether you can appeal it if you happen to get misidentified. The company did not return our emails.

Jason Phebus is a regular at the store and stops by around 3 a.m. before work.

"Couple months ago I went to walk in first thing in the morning and because of my hat it wouldn't unlock for me and I was yanking on the door and I had to look up at the camera and move my hat and stuff,” Phebus said.

That's when he realized Jacksons was using facial recognition technology.

"Not sure how I feel about my face being stored in some database somewhere. But i'm not jacking anything so I don't really care, honestly,” he added.

Who does seem to care, Phebus and other regulars say, are thieves and others concerned over privacy.

"It used to be packed like really early in the morning. When I come in now there's almost nobody in there,” Phebus said. “A lot of people don't like the whole ‘big brother is watching’ thing, I guess.”

"I think that it’s a good thing. I think it's a new way of the future,” another regular customer Randy Tull said. “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to hide.”

The sign over the main door shows Blue Line Technology designed the software. Blue Line’s website says the system is synced with door locks and the doors won't open unless the facial recognition system clears it. Also on the website, the company says people don't need to pause or even look up for the camera to read their face.

The website says businesses can customize alerts; one of the pages states companies can add custom notes such as “known shoplifter” and instructions for responders.

In another section of the site, Blue Line says the technology has an “unknown” capture ability; it says someone’s face needs to be visible and register as “unknown” for the door to open.

in a statement, Jacksons said, in part, "this particular solution has shown to significantly reduce incidences of crime for other similar retailers. that said - no solution is perfect - and we acknowledge public apprehension."

"I think it's for the greater good,” customer Juliza Black told KGW.

Black didn't notice the camera when she walked in to the store but sees it as a good deterrent to shoplifters.

"I've seen stores shut down because of so much crime. They're just losing so much product and can't keep up. I know the clerks are scared so I think this is going to help,” Black added.

Last year the ACLU called out Amazon and the Washington County Sheriff's Office for using facial recognition technology. The civil liberties union said law enforcement could "build a system to automate the identification and tracking of anyone."

In a blog post, the ACLU discussed facial recognition technology poses problems of private companies compiling blacklists, misjudging people and a potential lack of due process. they say it threatens to bring sweeping changes to public life.

In their statement, Jacksons says it doesn't share or receive any information or photos from other databases and all captured info is stored for less than 48 hours, except when a crime is committed.

The company tells KGW the software won't be installed at all their stores. 

Their full statement reads:

"At Jacksons Food Stores, the safety of our customers and employees is our number one priority.  We are in the early stages of testing new technology that utilizes facial recognition software. This particular solution has shown to significantly reduce incidences of crime for other similar retailers.  That said, no solution is perfect, and we acknowledge public apprehension behind facial recognition software. 

"It is important, however, to understand our system does not share, receive, or transmit any information or facial images to any other database. Our self-managed database is not connected to any other platform and all captured information is stored for less than 48 hours. The only exception would be in cases when a crime is committed. Video monitoring has become nearly ubiquitous in many public and private environments because of its proven ability to deter crime or to help law enforcement catch criminals. Here at Jacksons we are exploring whether such technology could result in a safer place for our customers to shop and for our staff to work."

RELATED: Two people turn themselves in after brutal attack of convenience store clerk in Portland (video)