Visitors check their phones next to a screen advertising facial recognition software during the Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC) in Beijing April 27, 2018. Use of the technology in Canada by police is the subject of controversy (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

National police to limit, but not stop use of facial recognition technology

It came as a bit of a surprise both to politicians and the public that several police forces across Canada had been using facial recognition technology, primarily from the U.S.-based Clearview AI company.

Concerns have been raised about its use both regarding its possible breach of Canadian privacy laws, and over the transparency and oversight of its use.

It didn’t help when Canada’s national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) had denied using the technology when asked directly, but then later weeks later admitted they had been experimenting with it. The admission came only after news that Clearview’s client list had been hacked.

Use of the technology is now being investigated by privacy commissioners in Alberta, Quebec, and British Columbia as well as the federal privacy commissioner. Former Ontario privacy commissioner, Ann Cavoukian, currently at Ryerson University in Toronto,  called the police use of Clearview technology, “appalling”.

Based on a simple photo the technology can provide a number of details about the person ranging from name, address, phone, to occupation and much more.  Part of the concern involves how Clearview scraped billions of images from the internet without individuals permission.

When news broke that Canadian police had been quietly using the American facial recognition technology, privacy expert, Ann Cavoukian, former Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner, called the use without oversight, “appalling” (CBC News)

In spite of the controversy, the RCMP said it would continue using the technology.  In an email to CBC, a spokesperson wrote will only be using it in very limited and specific circumstances. The RCMP will only use facial recognition technology, including Clearview AI, in exigent circumstances for victim identification in child sexual exploitation investigations, or in circumstances where threat to life or grievous bodily harm may be imminent.”

This week the opposition New Democratic Party ethics critic called on the Liberal government to enact a halt to the technology’s use until more is understood about its potential and create judicial oversight regarding its use.

Calling it “dystopian”, New Democratic Party MP Charlie Angus wants the federal government to enact a moratorium on use of facial recognition technology until its ramifications are better understood and controls and oversight are in place ( Justin Tang-The Canadian Press)

Quoted by the Canadian Press, the NDP’s Charlie Angus said. ““The potential for abuse is enormous,” he said. “It’s very clear this is not sci-fi, this is reality. So we need to stop this technology right now, stop it dead in its tracks and lay down some ground rules”. Calling the technology “dystopian” he added, “The prudent thing to do right now is for the government to say ‘stop this,’ and to make sure that other apps that may be out there are not being used to exploit our personal stories, our personal lives”.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics will begin its own probe into the implications of he use facial recognition technology in consultation with the federal privacy commissioner and others.

Additional information-sources

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