A new report from privacy watchdogs concludes that Canada’s use of facial recognition technology from U.S. company Clearview AI violates federal and provincial laws governing personal information.
In a report released Wednesday with three of his provincial counterparts, Federal Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien says that by taking billions of images of people from the internet, the New York-based company Clearview , engaged in “mass surveillance” in a flagrant violation of the privacy rights of Canadians.
Clearview AI technology enables the collection of a large number of images from various sources. This vast image bank can then help police, financial institutions and other customers identify strangers, using facial recognition technology.
Investigation by the federal commissioner and privacy officials in Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia indicates that Clearview AI technology has enabled law enforcement agencies and commercial organizations for purposes investigation, to match photographs of strangers to this immense database, which includes more than three billion images.
The Commissioners’ joint investigation concluded that Clearview AI had amassed highly sensitive biometric information without the knowledge or express consent of those affected. The commissioners conclude that this practice creates a “significant risk of serious harm” to people, noting that most of them have never been and will never be involved in a crime.
The commissioners believe that this “mass surveillance” practiced by Clearview to build its image bank constitutes “an affront to the right to privacy” and inflicts “general harm on all members of society, who constantly find themselves in a police identification parade ”.
“This is completely unacceptable,” said Mr. Therrien at a press conference on Wednesday.
Clearview defends itself
Clearview AI told investigators that Canadian privacy laws do not apply to its business because the company does not have a “real and substantial connection” to Canada and the consent does not. was not necessary because the information was publicly available.
The Commissioners rejected these arguments. They discovered that Clearview had not only collected images of Canadians, but also actively marketed its services to Canadian law enforcement agencies. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) thus became a paying client of Clearview and a total of 48 accounts, “trial or otherwise,” were created for police forces and other organizations across the country, we learned. the commissioners.
Mr. Therrien had announced last year that Clearview AI would cease offering its facial recognition services in Canada in response to the investigation. Clearview was thus to indefinitely suspend its contract with the RCMP, the only customer it has left in the country. However, the American company rejected the recommendations of the four commissioners to stop collecting images of people in Canada and to remove the images and biometric details of individuals it already owns.
Commissioners warned Wednesday that if the company continues to resist, they will “take other actions” available to them under their respective laws.
Mr. Therrien’s office is also completing a related investigation focusing precisely on the RCMP’s use of Clearview AI technology.
To the Commons committee?
Conservative MP Michael Barrett wrote on Twitter that Clearview AI should appear before the Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics “to be held accountable for its actions.”
Mr. Therrien and his provincial counterparts are developing guidelines for law enforcement agencies on the use of facial recognition technologies. They plan to release these guidelines for consultation this spring.
Dozens of groups and individuals working to protect privacy, human rights and civil liberties want the federal government to ban the use of facial recognition surveillance by federal law enforcement agencies. law and intelligence.
In an open letter to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair last July, they called the technology “very problematic” given its lack of precision and intrusive nature. They believe facial recognition is a threat to the fundamental rights of Canadians.