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What If You're Accused of Shoplifting in Cashierless Store?

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. on September 21, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Cashierless stores are an interesting new development in the retail industry. Amazon recently announced it plans to open 3,000 of its Amazon Go markets by the year 2021.

Imagine going into a grocery store, placing items in your cart as you go up and down the aisles. And then, you just walk out the door. No need to argue with the cashier that the store policy is if there's three in line, they'll open a new checkout line, and it's already eight deep. No more feeling irritated that the person in front of you in the 10 items or less lane has 14 items. Electronic surveillance equipment calculates your total, either while you are shopping or once you exit, charges your credit card, and emails a receipt before you can even start piling the groceries in the car.

Sorry, you'll have to bag now. No one to blame if your bread gets crushed! Also, there is the issue of shoplifting. What happens if you're accused of stealing something in one of these new cashierless stores?

1984, A Few Decades Late

If you're accused of shoplifting in a cashierless store, the only evidence against you maybe electronic surveillance. Imagine if football only had NFL Booth Review automated by artificial intelligence. Football games would certainly run quicker and without controversy. But at what price? Is that fair? And is that a future we want to live in? That Big Brother is watching?

Let's imagine someone is arrested for shoplifting. This may be almost impossible to do if there is electronic surveillance at the door because your card will be charged. Perhaps a person needs to have an app to be able to enter a store to shop. And perhaps that person's phone has been hacked by a third party.

When the shopper exits the store, the customer's phone doesn't "ping" with a little message saying "receipt received!" Have they shoplifted? How could a prosecutor ever prove the necessary mens rae, or mental state, that so many crimes, such as shoplifting require? Would the burden of proof switch from the prosecutor to the suspect to prove, that in fact, there was no intent to steal, that the phone was hacked, or that there was a problem with the app. Would the suspect be guilty until proven innocent, which is very much un-American?

I'm Watching You Wazowski ... Always Watching ...

One company, Standard Cognition, only uses a series of ceiling cameras (ok, it could be 27 camera for a small market) and an app to figure out what you've purchased and what you only viewed. Capital outlay for this hardware is a much easier entry for current mom and pop markets than the $1 million in hardware Amazon installed in Amazon Go stores. These cameras calculate a shopper's movement, speed, stride length and gaze to determine if a person is going to buy an item, decide not to buy it, or steal it. And if it thinks you are about to steal, a customer service representative will approach you and ask if you need assistance. How Big Brother is that! Or perhaps this system decreases shoplifting from 10% of revenues to 1%, and shop owners are willing to forego 1%. Maybe shoplifting becomes obsolete!

With the advent of traffic cameras, we have seen that although they can document the license of a car running a red light, they really can't identify the driver. The owner of the car caught on camera cannot just be fined. They must be offered their day in court, due process to be heard, and innocent until proven guilty. Presumably cashierless stores will be the same.

But how will the store, or the police, know it was you? Will we all have licenses on our foreheads? Or chips embedded in our bodies? All to prove we didn't steal that candy bar? Justice, but at what price?

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