Facial recognition cameras to monitor passenger habits in Swiss stations

Facial recognition cameras to monitor passenger habits in Swiss stations

It’s never a nice feeling to think you are being watched, even if it is in a public place like the centre of a city or train station. Now, Swiss Federal Railways (SBB), the main public transport provider in Switzerland, has announced that it will be installing facial recognition cameras in 57 stations across the alpine nation - however, according to the company, the system only wants to know your spending habits and how often you visit each station.

SBB to instal cameras to gather more data on passengers

According to 20 Minuten, SBB wants to use the cameras to “obtain high-quality data that can be used to analyse the movement of people at train stations." Unlike the 700 cameras already operating in SBB stations, the new technology will allow the international company to track all passengers individually and in more detail.

SBB said that the cameras will capture and analyse the following data sets:

  • Passengers' age, size, amount of luggage and whether they have any special items (e.g. prams, wheelchairs, bicycles)
  • Their route through the station
  • How long each passenger remains in the station
  • Customer behaviour in station shops (purchasing habits, anti-social behaviour, etc)
  • Which shops are visited by passengers the most
  • How much passengers spend in station shops

The new cameras will be installed in Schaffhausen station first, before being spread to 57 larger stations run by SBB like those in Zurich, Basel, Bern and Geneva. Moreover, the cameras will not be openly visible to the public. The data itself will not be available to entrepreneurs that run businesses in the station, and the data itself will be stored in Microsoft’s cloud storage system.

Data to be used to charge fairer rents in Swiss stations

SBB confirmed that the purpose of the surveillance cameras is to monitor the so-called “slip rate” for shops in their stations. Currently, shops with higher sales have to pay more rent to SBB than less profitable businesses. It is hoped that more detailed reporting on passenger movements and spending habits will allow them to charge fairer rent and offer more competitive rental contracts.

When asked about what data protection concepts are in place, SBB countered that all the data remains anonymous. “It is not possible to draw any conclusions about individual persons. There is no link to data that allows conclusions to be drawn about the person, no link to SwissPass or mobile apps. Data protection is guaranteed,” a spokesperson told 20 Minuten.

Swiss government to monitor the system for data breaches

Others are warier, with Adrian Lobsiger, the Federal Data Protection Commissioner, calling for a “clear data protection plan” from SBB as there are “considerable risks” involved in running the system. He confirmed that the government would be monitoring the new scheme very closely.

Thumb image credit: Thamrongsak.S /

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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