Privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Clearview AI broke Canadian privacy laws with facial recognition tool, watchdogs say

OTTAWA — Privacy watchdogs say U.S. firm Clearview AI’s facial-recognition technology resulted in mass surveillance of Canadians and violated federal and provincial laws governing personal information.

In a report Wednesday with three provincial counterparts, federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien 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.

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.

The report by Therrien and privacy-protection authorities for Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec said Clearview AI’s technology allowed law enforcement and commercial organizations to match photographs of unknown people against the company’s databank of more than three billion images for investigation purposes.

The probe concluded that Clearview AI had amassed highly sensitive biometric information without the knowledge or consent of individuals.

The watchdogs said this created a risk of significant harm to people, noting most of them have never been, nor ever will be, implicated in a crime.

“This is clearly unacceptable,” Therrien told a news conference.

Clearview AI told the investigators that Canadian privacy laws do not apply to its activities because the company does not have a “real and substantial connection” to Canada, and that consent was not needed because the information was publicly available.

The commissioners rejected these arguments.

The watchdogs found Clearview AI not only collected the images of Canadians but actively marketed its services to law-enforcement agencies in Canada.

The RCMP became a paying customer and a total of 48 accounts were created for law enforcement and other organizations across the country, the commissioners said.

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 the indefinite suspension of Clearview AI’s contract with the RCMP, its last remaining client in Canada.

However, the company rejected the commissioners’ recommendations to stop collecting images of people in Canada and delete previously collected images and biometric details of individuals.

The watchdogs warned Wednesday that if the company continues to resist, they will pursue other actions available to them under the law.

Therrien’s office is completing a related investigation focusing on RCMP use of Clearview AI’s technology.

Conservative MP Michael Barrett tweeted Wednesday that Clearview AI should appear before the House of Commons information, privacy and ethics committee “to be held accountable for their actions.”

Therrien and his provincial counterparts are developing guidance for law-enforcement agencies on the use of facial-recognition technologies. They expect to publish guidelines for consultation this spring.

Dozens of groups and individuals working to protect privacy, human rights and civil liberties want the Trudeau government to ban the use of facial recognition surveillance by federal law-enforcement and intelligence agencies.

In an open letter to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair last July, they called the technology “highly problematic,” given its lack of accuracy and invasive nature, and say it poses a threat to Canadians’ fundamental rights.

They told the minister that in the absence of meaningful policy or regulation governing facial recognition, it cannot be considered safe for use in Canada.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Rebels forward Jayden Grubbe is one of three Rebels on the NHL Central Scouting players to watch list for the 2021 NHL Draft. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Rebels seek consistency ahead of matchup with Hitmen

The Red Deer Rebels had to deal with a pang of regret… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney and Minister of Health Tyler Shandro to announce investments to reduce surgery wait times. (File photo by BLACK PRESS)
More than 16K surgeries, procedures delayed in Alberta due to COVID-19

COVID-19 has delayed more than 16,000 surgeries and procedures in Alberta, as… Continue reading

Quinn Mason died from an opioid overdose at the age of 23 in June 2020. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta mother whose son died from overdose advocates for ‘change’

It’s been about nine months since her son died from an overdose,… Continue reading

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Thursday that the province was ready to move forward with Phase 2A and B in the coming weeks. (Photo by Paul Taillon/Office of the Premier)
Majority of Albertans to receive first shot before June 30: Shandro

Shandro says all Albertans should be offered the COVID-19 vaccine by June 30

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw acknowledged that Friday would be one year since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the province. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three more Red Deer COVID-19 deaths, 331 active cases in Alberta

Red Deer is down to 362 active cases of the virus

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Dillon Dube scores hat trick for Flames in 7-3 win over Senators

Dillon Dube scores hat trick for Flames in 7-3 win over Senators

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Liverpool's manager Jurgen Klopp gives instructions during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Thursday, March 4, 2021. (Phil Noble, Pool via AP)
Liverpool slumps to historic 5th straight loss at Anfield

Liverpool slumps to historic 5th straight loss at Anfield

Philadelphia Flyers' Sean Couturier (14) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry (35) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Flyers rally from early deficit to stun Penguins 4-3

Flyers rally from early deficit to stun Penguins 4-3

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen reacts to a goal by Winnipeg Jets' Paul Stastny, left, during first-period NHL hockey action in Montreal on Thursday, March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Pierre-Luc Dubois scores overtime winner as Winnipeg Jets edge Montreal Canadiens 4-3

Pierre-Luc Dubois scores overtime winner as Winnipeg Jets edge Montreal Canadiens 4-3

Toronto Raptors guard Terence Davis (0) shoots after grabbing a rebound against Boston Celtics center Robert Williams III, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Boston. At right is Boston Celtics guard Payton Pritchard. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Tatum scores 27, Celtics outlast depleted Raptors 132-125

Tatum scores 27, Celtics outlast depleted Raptors 132-125

International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel answers a question during a news conference addressing hockey issues at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. The International Ice Hockey Federation has confirmed the postponement of the women's world hockey championship in Nova Scotia to May 6-16. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP /Mark Humphrey
IIHF postpones women’s world hockey championship in Nova Scotia to May

IIHF postpones women’s world hockey championship in Nova Scotia to May

Quebec Premier François Legault chairs a virtual news conference Thursday, March 4, 2021 in Montreal. The premiers from the left are: John Horgan, B.C.; Jason Kenney, Alberta; Scott Moe, Saskatchewan; Legault, Quebec; Brian Pallister, Manitoba; Doug Ford, Ontario; and Blaine Higgs, New Brunswick. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Premiers reiterate demand for $28-billion increase in health transfers from Ottawa

Premiers reiterate demand for $28-billion increase in health transfers from Ottawa

Most Read