Canada Privacy

‘Lie, Lie, Deny’: Oversight won’t change the culture at the RCMP

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada finds the RCMP’s use of facial recognition technology broke the law, but the RCMP is refusing to change its culture of deceit and denial

June 10, 2021 — Today, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) published its investigatory report concluding that the RCMP’s use of Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology was a violation of Canada’s privacy laws, and recommending greater oversight of law enforcement’s use of invasive technologies. However, the prevailing culture at Canada’s national police force is clearly an insurmountable obstacle.

The OPC investigation examined whether the RCMP’s access to a database that included more than three billion images of faces taken from the public Internet amounted to a violation of Canada’s public sector privacy law, the Privacy Act. The OPC determined that effectively putting millions of Canadians in a 24/7 police lineup was against the law, and the RCMP has a responsibility to ensure that the private sector companies that they contract are in compliance with Canada’s privacy laws. In response, the RCMP is denying that this is a reasonable requirement, committing to a pattern of behaviour that willfully employs deceit, misinformation, and outright lies.

“The conclusion of this investigation only lays out more reasons we should be concerned about the RCMP,” said OpenMedia privacy campaigner, Bryan Short. “Not only does this report lay out the work that still needs to be done when it comes to partnerships between public and private organizations in Canada. But it also clearly demonstrates the extent that the RCMP is willing to go to hide its activity. This pattern of behaviour is best described as ‘Lie, Lie, Deny.’ We learned that the RCMP lied about using this technology, lied about how they were using it, and then denied that they should be responsible for the legality of the tools they use.”

Short continued: “What’s needed is systemic change. New policies, training, and oversight aren’t going to be effective against this kind of obstinance. There is no justification for the RCMP continuing to maintain that they’ve done nothing wrong at this point. In the face of outright resistance to change and admission of wrongdoing, new governance measures will fail. When it comes to the RCMP, an outright ban on facial recognition technology is clearly needed.” 

When first asked early last year, the RCMP told the OPC that they weren’t using Clearview AI’s FRT. It wasn’t until after the client list for Clearview AI was leaked, that the RCMP even admitted they were using it. At that time, the RCMP maintained that they were only using the technology to conduct searches in order to identify children who were the victims of sexual abuse online. However, the OPC’s investigation determined that only 6% of the hundreds of Clearview AI searches done by the RCMP were to identify victims, and a staggering 85% of searches could not be accounted for at all.

Nearly 10,000 members of the OpenMedia community have signed a petition calling for an outright ban on the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement in Canada. In the case of Clearview AI, more than 3,000 members of the OpenMedia community made personal requests to take their data back from the company. OpenMedia has been making presentations at police boards and commissions throughout Canada about the harms of facial recognition technology, including Clearview AI. The organization also made a submission highlighting these concerns to the Special Legislative Committee reviewing the Police Act in British Columbia.

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OpenMedia works to keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free. We create community-driven campaigns to engage, educate, and empower people to safeguard the Internet.


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