(File)
(File)

(File) (File)

Privacy watchdog says RCMP’s use of facial-recognition tool broke law

Privacy commissioner issues report on the force’s information gathering from U.S. firm Clearview AI

The RCMP broke the law by using cutting-edge facial-recognition software to collect personal information, the federal privacy watchdog said Thursday in advocating national standards for police concerning the controversial technology.

In a report to Parliament, privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien said there were serious and systemic failings by the RCMP to ensure compliance with the Privacy Act before it gathered information from U.S. firm Clearview AI.

Clearview AI’s technology allows for the collection of huge numbers of images from various sources that can help police forces, financial institutions and other clients identify people.

In a related probe, Therrien and three provincial counterparts said in February that Clearview AI’s database amounted to mass surveillance of Canadians and violated federal and provincial laws governing personal information.

They said the New York-based company’s scraping of billions of images of people from across the internet was a clear violation of Canadians’ privacy rights.

Therrien announced last year that Clearview AI would stop offering its facial-recognition services in Canada in response to the privacy investigation. The move included suspension of the company’s contract with the RCMP.

The complainant who sparked the probe, New Democrat MP Charlie Angus, had expressed serious concerns about the RCMP’s use of Clearview.

The commissioner found that In the course of using paid and trial accounts, the RCMP uploaded images of individuals to Clearview, which then displayed a number of matching images. Along with each matched image, Clearview provided an associated hyperlink to the web page from which the image had been collected.

The commissioner said the RCMP accessed images of Canadians from Clearview AI in the course of its investigative work.

“We were also concerned that the RCMP at first erroneously told our office it was not using Clearview AI,” the report said.

When the Mounties later acknowledged its use, they said publicly it had only used the company’s technology in a limited way, primarily for identifying, locating and rescuing children who were victims of online sexual abuse.

“However, our investigation found the RCMP did not satisfactorily account for the vast majority of the searches it made,” the commissioner’s report said.

Used responsibly and in the right circumstances, facial-recognition technology has the potential to offer great benefits to society, it said.

“For instance, it can support national security objectives, assist police in solving crime or help authorities find missing persons.”

At the same time, facial recognition can be a highly invasive surveillance technology fraught with many risks, the report added.

“Studies have shown that it can provide racially biased results and, given the chilling effect it can have on certain activities, it has the potential to erode privacy and undermine freedoms and human rights such as free expression and peaceful assembly.”

Canadians must be free to participate in the increasingly digital day-to-day activities of modern society without the risk of these activities being tracked and monitored, Therrien told a news conference.

While certain intrusions on this right can sometimes be justified, “individuals do not forgo their right to privacy merely by living and moving in the world in ways that may reveal their face to others, or that may enable their image to be captured on camera.”

The commissioner’s office said Thursday it remains concerned that the RCMP did not agree with the conclusion that it contravened the Privacy Act.

While the commissioner maintains the RCMP was required to ensure the Clearview AI database was compiled legally, the police force argued doing so would create an unreasonable obligation.

Therrien said this is the latest example of how public-private partnerships and contracting relationships involving digital technologies are creating new complexities and risks for privacy.

He encouraged Parliament to amend the Privacy Act to clarify that federal institutions have an obligation to ensure the organizations from which they collect personal information have acted lawfully.

In the end, the RCMP agreed to implement the privacy commissioner’s recommendations to improve its policies, systems and training, the watchdog said.

The measures include full privacy assessments of the data-collection practices of outside parties to ensure any personal information is gathered in keeping with Canadian privacy law.

The RCMP is also creating an oversight function to ensure new technologies are introduced in a manner that respects privacy, the commissioner said.

Implementing the changes will require broad and concerted efforts across the national police force, the report said.

In a statement, the RCMP acknowledged “there is always room for improvement and we continually seek opportunities to strengthen our policies, procedures and training.”

Therrien’s report also includes draft privacy guidance on facial recognition for police agencies. A joint initiative with his provincial and territorial counterparts, the guidance seeks to clarify police agencies’ privacy obligations relating to use of the technology.

The RCMP said there is a need for further engagement concerning not just facial recognition, but all biometric analysis that could be used to support criminal investigations.

“Technologies will continue to evolve rapidly, and with the prevalence of digital media, automated searching and comparison tools are likely to become increasingly useful and available to law enforcement agencies.”

—Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

RELATED: RCMP commits to changes on how it collects, uses information about protesters

Law enforcementprivacyRCMP

Just Posted

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

Holger Schwichtenberg and his son Philip talk in the barn of the 150-acre Schwichtenberg farm. This farm is one of many throughout B.C. that support more than 12,500 jobs across the province in the dairy industry. (Contributed Photo/B.C. Dairy Association)
Agassiz dairy farm a model of care for environment, animals, and family

Farm is part of a dairy sector centred in the Fraser Valley, supporting 12,500 jobs province-wide

Kalyn Head, seen here on June 4, 2021, will be running 100 kilometres for her “birthday marathon” fundraiser on July 23. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Woman’s 100-km birthday marathon from Chilliwack to Abbotsford will benefit Special Olympics B.C.

Kalyn Head hopes run raises awareness, advocates for inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities

The Great Gordini puts on a magic show for an avid audience during the first Storytime in the Park in this 2019 photo. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)
Storytime in the Park returns this summer

Day 1 registration is on June 30

Dancers from the Sts’ailes First Nation perform the eagle dance at a welcome banner dedication ceremony on Thursday, June 10. “Ey Swayel” is a Halq̓eméylem term translated as ‘a good day.’ (Adam Louis/Observer)
VIDEO: ‘A good day’ for Agassiz school as Sts’ailes welcome banner is dedicated

Banner hangs above the school’s entrance, welcoming students, staff and visitors

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Surrey Fire Service battled a dock fire along the Fraser River late Friday night (June 18). It was on Musqueam Drive, near Industrial Road, around 10:45 p.m. (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
VIDEO: Fire engulfs pier on Surrey side of the Fraser River

Dock has reportedly been unused for a long time

Most Read