(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

AW Neill Elementary School in Port Alberni. (NEWS FILE PHOTO)
SD70 chooses new name for AW Neill School in Port Alberni

New name honours Nuu-chah-nulth Peoples’ connection to region

Douglas Holmes, current Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District chief administrative officer, is set to take on that position at the Regional District of Nanaimo come late August. (Submitted photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo’s next CAO keen to work on building partnerships

Douglas Holmes to take over top administrator role with RDN this summer

Ron MacDonald fields questions at a news conference in Halifax on Sept. 27, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Finding ‘comfortable’ indigenous monitor tough task in Tofino-area shooting death

Julian Jones case hampered by difficulty finding a civilian comfortable with privacy protocols

Port Alberni RCMP officer in command Insp. Eric Rochette presents longtime community policing volunteer Louie Aumair with a OIC appreciation certificate. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Port Alberni RCMP honour longtime volunteer

First responders receive support from broader community

The Dock+ is located on Harbour Road in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN / Alberni Valley News)
PROGRESS 2021: Port Alberni’s food hub still growing a year later

The Dock hopes to open a retail store on Alberni’s busy waterfront

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Police cars are seen parked outside Vancouver Police Department headquarters on Saturday, January 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police officer charged with assault during an arrest in 2019

The service has released no other details about the allegations

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen receives medical attention after collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
Christian Eriksen in stable condition, Euro 2020 match resumes

Eriksen was given chest compressions after collapsing on the field during a European Championship

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system takes Indigenous children from their families

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

Most Read