Privacy commissioners to investigate facial recognition technology amid police use

Police to use facial recognition

Canada's privacy commissioner investigating controversial facial recognition technology used by Durham police

Hoan Ton-That, the founder of Clearview AI, tests the company's app in NY on January 10, 2020.

Government privacy watchdogs are teaming up to probe whether Canadian laws are being broken by Clearview AI's powerful facial-recognition software.

Alberta's privacy commissioner is taking part in a national investigation of facial recognition technology supplied by US firm Clearview AI.

They say their investigation was initiated in the wake of numerous reports that raised questions and concerns about whether the company is collecting and using personal information without consent.

It added that Clearview AI has said it was also providing services to financial institutions.

Therrien's office says the four privacy regulators will examine whether the organization's practices comply with Canadian privacy laws.

Peel Regional Police have also confirmed to CP24 that they, too, had accessed to the facial recognition software but said officers had been instructed to cease the testing until it is properly assessed.

Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner says he first learned about a police force using the app when Toronto police contacted his office in early February.

Canada's privacy watchdog on Friday announced an investigation into a United States software startup reportedly capable of matching images of unknown faces to photos it mined from millions of websites and social media networks.

"Clearview is operating within a judicial and a legislative vacuum", said NDP MP Charlie Angus.

"While very much in the planning stages, my hope is this guidance will explore the potential impacts of these technologies on privacy, the legal considerations related to the collection and use of biometric data, and the how the conditions under which these technologies are used might reflect the necessary balance between public safety and personal privacy", Beamish said.

Durham Regional Police have also confirmed some members used the technology "to see if there was any value in terms of local investigations". The company replied in a statement saying that its product has helped "solve thousands of serious crimes, including murder, sexual assault, domestic violence, and child sexual-exploitation cases". Those three provinces have their own privacy laws.

Clearview AI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bergen told Global News that he's aware of the issues surrounding Clearview AI, but wants to assure the public that Hamilton police do not have a plan for the tool.

Edmonton police plan to use the technology "in response to existing criminal investigations, using a database of pictures previously obtained for a lawful objective", such as mug shots, EPS spokesperson Cheryl Sheppard said in a written statement.

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