Face scanning during church services © epd
Soon to be unmolested in the pew: churchgoers © Harald Oppitz (KNA)
Brave new church world: The "Churchix" software is used in 42 houses of worship worldwide so far. This allows congregations to log who comes to church services. In Germany, such monitoring is unthinkable.
Counting sheep has taken on a new meaning in some churches. Israeli-American IT company Face-Six has developed facial recognition software called "Churchix". The program is used in churches to register who attends the service and who skips it. So far, 42 churches worldwide are using the software, company CEO Moshe Greenshpan told Evangelischer Pressedienst. This form of control will not exist in German churches, the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and the Catholic German Bishops' Conference announced.
According to media reports, places of worship in the USA, Portugal, Africa, Indonesia and India are using the software. Greenshpan itself does not comment on this. "The reactions have been overwhelming," however, he enthused in an interview with the blog "Churchmag". "The churches we've talked to say it's a dream come true for them."
Camera images are matched with stored photos
Technically, this dream works like this: the congregation downloads Churchix onto an ordinary computer. It stores high-resolution footage of its members in the database. Cameras are installed either in the church or at a control station at the entrance and connected to the system. Recorded photos or videos are sent to the computer and compared with the stored images by "Churchix" in seconds. The hit rate is 99 percent, according to Greenshpan.
Counting churchgoers in Germany "by hand
Even in the past, churches counted their churchgoers by hand. In the Protestant regional churches and Catholic dioceses in Germany, the number of people attending church services is determined on set counting days.
With Churchix, this is done digitally, the company boss promises the British online magazine "International Business Times UK". Church customers would be asked to use the program openly and not secretly – and, for example, to introduce voluntary registration. So far, however, the municipalities have apparently not responded to this call. He fears churches are not educating their visitors, Greenshpan confirmed to epd. So the only way to escape monitoring is to stay away from the church.
Software actually used in security areas
Actually, Face-Six works with security services. The company's customers include casinos, airports and shopping malls. Then churches also approached the IT company. "We never thought of churches as potential customers," Greenshpan confessed in "International Business Times UK".
For clergy, Churchix creates new opportunities. They could create detailed statistics and profiles about the church attendance of their parishioners, about the age and gender of those attending the service. In addition, they could use the software to target new faces and try to win back seemingly lost believers.
Churchix could also be used as a security system, with photos of people banned from the premises or criminals stored in the system. One church is already using the software to identify criminals and sex offenders, Greenshpan told the online magazine Motherboard. He won't say who Churchix's specific customers are. Software also faces criticism from data privacy advocates in the U.S.
Introduction in Germany legally unthinkable
In Germany, churchgoers need not worry about being filmed and digitally recorded during services in the future. "The use of such software to monitor churchgoers is legally unthinkable in our country," says an EKD spokeswoman. Video surveillance – and Churchix goes even further than that – is only possible within narrow limits, which are laid down in the EKD's data protection law. It says: "During church services, video surveillance is inadmissible."
The deputy spokeswoman of the German Bishops' Conference, Daniela Elpers, also sees data protection problems. "Such video surveillance in Catholic churches in Germany is currently unthinkable and does not correspond to our 'church culture,' which differs from the American one in many aspects," Elpers says.