NDP calls for moratorium on Clearview AI facial recognition software

OTTAWA — NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus wants the Liberal government to stop the RCMP’s use of controversial facial-recognition software.

The U.S. firm Clearview AI claims to allow police to compare images from crime scenes to a database compiled from publicly available images. News reports have raised concerns about whether the company is collecting and using personal information without consent.

Angus called on the Liberals to ban the technology in Canada until more is known and there can be some kind of judicial oversight of its use.

“The prudent thing to do right now is for the government to say ‘stop this,’ and to make sure that other apps that may be out there are not being used to exploit our personal stories, our personal lives,” Angus said in a briefing Monday.

The House of Commons committee on access to information, privacy and ethics is scrutinizing the tool and so is the federal privacy commissioner.

There’s a strong record of all parties working together to protect Canadians’ privacy, Angus said, and he hopes the committee can bring strong recommendations to the government.

In the meantime, Angus said, he’s had no response from Liberal ministers about a moratorium.

The government is looking forward to the privacy commissioner’s eventual report, according to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair’s press secretary, Mary-Liz Power.

“The government of Canada has no greater responsibility than to keep its citizens safe. Strong privacy laws are critical in that effort,” Power said in a statement.

The RCMP and several other police services across Canada have confirmed they used the software.

According to a recent statement by the RCMP, Clearview AI’s technology has been used in 15 cases involving sexual abuse shown online and has led the Mounties to two children who were being victimized.

The force has also tried the technology out “to determine its utility to enhance criminal investigations,” the statement said.

Angus called the technology “dystopian” and said there should be rules in place to govern how and when police access it.

“The potential for abuse is enormous,” he said. “It’s very clear this is not sci-fi, this is reality. So we need to stop this technology right now, stop it dead in its tracks and lay down some ground rules.”

He compared it to the rules police have to follow if they want to listen in on phone calls.

Angus is particularly concerned about possible misfires when it comes to certain races, Indigenous and non-binary people.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2020.

—With files from Jim Bronskill

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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