Privacy watchdogs probe facial recognition technology

Police-affiliated company to be investigated by B.C., Alberta, Quebec, federal commissioners

A police-affiliated technology company’s use of facial recognition tools is being investigated for adherence to Canadian laws, federal and provincial privacy commissioners said Friday.

The probe stems from media reports raising questions and concerns about whether New York City-based Clearview AI is collecting and using personal information without consent.

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The company’s technology allows the collection of large numbers of images from various sources to assist police and financial institutions identify people.

B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy and federal Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien along with their Alberta and Quebec counterparts will examine whether the organization’s practices are in compliance with Canadian federal and provincial privacy legislation.

All privacy regulators have agreed to work together to develop guidance for organizations – including law enforcement – on the use of biometric technology including facial recognition.

It was revealed earlier this week that Hamilton police had been trying out company software but have been told to stop.

Earlier in the week, Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish said his office should have been consulted before Toronto Police Service began using Clearview AI products.

He said indiscriminate scraping of the internet to collect people’s facial images for law enforcement purposes has significant privacy implications.

“There are vital privacy issues at stake with the use of any facial recognition technology,” Beamish said. “We question whether there are any circumstances where it would be acceptable to use Clearview AI.

He said other police services using such technology should stop immediately.

British Columbians are no strangers to the use of facial recognition. It was used following the 2011 Stanley Cup riot.

Former B.C. commissioner Elizabeth Denham ruled in 2012 that the Insurance Corp. of British Columbia couldn’t allow police to use the provincial insurer’s facial recognition technology to identify suspected hockey Cup rioters without a court order.

Edmonton police have said they would use facial recognition technology – but only for identifying established criminals.


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