Canada Privacy

Privacy Commissioners find police use of Clearview AI violated privacy rights of Canadians

Clearview AI’s indiscriminate facial recognition technology an “affront” to Canadians’ privacy rights, says joint investigation report

February 3, 2021 — Today findings were released from the joint investigation into Clearview AI by the federal, Quebec, Alberta, and BC, Privacy Commissioners. The joint report confirms what the OpenMedia community has long expected: The indiscriminate collection of sensitive facial data by Clearview AI for use by law enforcement in Canada was a violation of the rights of tens of millions of Canadians, with serious potential for both individual and broad-based harms.

“These findings support what we’ve been saying since we learned last year that police all across Canada have been secretly using Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology,” says OpenMedia Campaigner, Bryan Short. “And that’s that any use of this product is a clear violation of Canadian privacy law. Essentially, Clearview AI makes everyone a suspect everytime the police use it. It isn’t an investigatory tool – it’s an invasive, destructive, discriminatory, and unregulated abuse of police power. It should never have been possible for police to adopt Clearview AI’s tool without a full public debate. We desperately need explicit regulation limiting any future use of similar technologies.” 

Clearview AI’s product works by comparing an image of a suspect’s face against a database of more than three billion images that have been illegally scraped from the Internet. It wasn’t until a leak of Clearview AI’s client list last year that the Canadian public learned that police forces across Canada were using Clearview’s facial recognition technology. Despite initial denials, the RCMP, the Vancouver Police Department, the Calgary Police Department, Toronto Police Service, and the Halifax Regional Police, amongst others, all eventually admitted to using Clearview AI.

Today’s findings conclude that at least 48 law enforcement agencies across the country made use of Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology in violation of federal and provincial privacy laws. During the investigation, the Commissioners found that Clearview AI collected biometric information of Candians (including children) without necessary consent, then used and disclosed this sensitive information to law enforcement, which created a risk of significant harm to Canadians. The federal privacy commissioner is separately investigating the RCMP’s use of Clearview AI, and alongside their provincial counterparts are developing guidance for law enforcement on the use of facial recognition technology. In a press release, Privacy Commissioner Therrien called on Parliament to clarify that privacy rights trump commercial interests through their ongoing review of Bill C-11, legislation currently under consideration to modernize Canada’s privacy laws for private companies.

Nearly 10,000 members of the OpenMedia community have called for a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement in Canada by signing a petition. As well, more than 3,000 OpenMedia community members have requested their data from Clearview AI. 

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