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”.
- RCI: Feb 28/20: More admission of police use of controversial facial recognition technology
- RCI: Nov 14/19: Chinese facial recognition coming to a few Canadian stores
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.
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.
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.
- CBC: C. Tunney: Mar 9/20: RCMP says it will limit its use of facial recognition tech — but won’t stop using it entirely
- The Tyee (BC): B. Carney: Mar 10/20: Despite Denials, RCMP Used Facial Recognition Program for 18 Years
- Canadian Press (Red Deer Advocate): Mar 9/20: NDP calls for moratorium on Clearview AI facial recognition software
- Global News: A. Graham: Mar 9/20: London (Ont) police clear up use of controversial Clearview AI facial recognition technology
- IT World Canada: A. Coop: Feb 13/20: Privacy expert calls Toronto police’s use of Clearview AI ‘appalling’
- CTV: K. Goodfield: Feb 21/20: Canadian privacy officials will investigate controversial facial recognition tool used by Toronto police