Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. The federal privacy watchdog says the RCMP broke the law by using cutting-edge facial-recognition software to collect personal information. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Privacy watchdog says RCMP’s use of facial-recognition tool broke law

Privacy watchdog says RCMP’s use of facial-recognition tool broke law

OTTAWA — The RCMP broke the law by using cutting-edge facial-recognition software to collect personal information, the federal privacy watchdog said Thursday in advocating national standards for police concerning the controversial technology.

In a report to Parliament, privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien said there were serious and systemic failings by the RCMP to ensure compliance with the Privacy Act before it gathered information from U.S. firm Clearview AI.

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.

In a related probe, Therrien and three provincial counterparts said in February that Clearview AI’s database amounted to mass surveillance of Canadians and violated federal and provincial laws governing personal information.

They 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.

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 suspension of the company’s contract with the RCMP.

The complainant who sparked the latest probe, New Democrat MP Charlie Angus, had expressed serious concerns about the RCMP’s use of Clearview.

The commissioner found that In the course of using paid and trial accounts, the RCMP uploaded images of individuals to Clearview, which then displayed a number of matching images. Along with each matched image, Clearview provided an associated hyperlink to the web page from which the image had been collected.

The commissioner said the RCMP accessed images of Canadians from Clearview AI in the course of its investigative work.

“We were also concerned that the RCMP at first erroneously told our office it was not using Clearview AI,” the report said.

When the Mounties later acknowledged its use, they said publicly it had only used the company’s technology in a limited way, primarily for identifying, locating and rescuing children who were victims of online sexual abuse.

“However, our investigation found the RCMP did not satisfactorily account for the vast majority of the searches it made,” the commissioner’s report said.

Used responsibly and in the right circumstances, facial-recognition technology has the potential to offer great benefits to society, it said.

“For instance, it can support national security objectives, assist police in solving crime or help authorities find missing persons.”

At the same time, facial recognition can be a highly invasive surveillance technology fraught with many risks, the report added.

“Studies have shown that it can provide racially biased results and, given the chilling effect it can have on certain activities, it has the potential to erode privacy and undermine freedoms and human rights such as free expression and peaceful assembly.”

Canadians must be free to participate in the increasingly digital day-to-day activities of modern society without the risk of these activities being tracked and monitored, Therrien told a news conference.

While certain intrusions on this right can sometimes be justified, “individuals do not forgo their right to privacy merely by living and moving in the world in ways that may reveal their face to others, or that may enable their image to be captured on camera.”

The commissioner’s office said Thursday it remains concerned that the RCMP did not agree with the conclusion that it contravened the Privacy Act.

While the commissioner maintains the RCMP was required to ensure the Clearview AI database was compiled legally, the police force argued doing so would create an unreasonable obligation.

Therrien said this is the latest example of how public-private partnerships and contracting relationships involving digital technologies are creating new complexities and risks for privacy.

He encouraged Parliament to amend the Privacy Act to clarify that federal institutions have an obligation to ensure the organizations from which they collect personal information have acted lawfully.

In the end, the RCMP agreed to implement the privacy commissioner’s recommendations to improve its policies, systems and training, the watchdog said.

The measures include full privacy assessments of the data-collection practices of outside parties to ensure any personal information is gathered in keeping with Canadian privacy law.

The RCMP is also creating an oversight function to ensure new technologies are introduced in a manner that respects privacy, the commissioner said.

Implementing the changes will require broad and concerted efforts across the national police force, the report said.

In a statement, the RCMP acknowledged “there is always room for improvement and we continually seek opportunities to strengthen our policies, procedures and training.”

Therrien’s report also includes draft privacy guidance on facial recognition for police agencies. A joint initiative with his provincial and territorial counterparts, the guidance seeks to clarify police agencies’ privacy obligations relating to use of the technology.

The RCMP said there is a need for further engagement concerning not just facial recognition, but all biometric analysis that could be used to support criminal investigations.

“Technologies will continue to evolve rapidly, and with the prevalence of digital media, automated searching and comparison tools are likely to become increasingly useful and available to law enforcement agencies.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2021.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

RCMP

Just Posted

The Sylvan Lake Gulls celebrate a sixth inning home run from Nolan Weger on Sunday during a game against the Edmonton Prospects. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Historic opening weekend for Sylvan Lake Gulls

It wasn’t perfect, but perhaps that was the beauty of it. Fans… Continue reading

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Alberta reports 100 new cases of COVID-19

The Central zone sits at 218 active cases

Three Hills RCMP recovered stolen copper wire during recent investigation near Kneehill. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Fatal ATV rollover near Innisfail Saturday

A 77-year-old man from Red Deer County died Saturday after an ATV… Continue reading

Firefighters and emergency services workers helped celebrate Barry Young’s 85th birthday at Timberstone Mews on May 29. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Firefighters in central Alberta make birthdays special

A fire truck arriving outside your house is not normally good news.… Continue reading

A view of Two Jack Lake in Banff National Park is shown in this undated handout photo. More Canadians are expected to leave their passports at home this summer and hit the road in Canada as the weak loonie and low gas prices prompt a deeper exploration of their own country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Travel Alberta *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Report: Alberta losing residents to other parts of Canada

As the COVID-19 pandemic slowly winds down in Alberta, residents are continuing… Continue reading

A large number of supporters were out Saturday at a rally intended to bring awareness about including Hinduism in the grade 2 portion of the K-6 draft curriculum. As it stands now, Hinduism won’t be taught until grade 6 in the proposed draft curriculum. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Video: Rally to support adding Hinduism to draft curriculum draws crowd in Red Deer

The Hindu community in Red Deer came out in droves on Saturday… Continue reading

Orange shirts, shoes, flowers and messages are displayed on the steps outside the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 following a ceremony hosted by the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations in honour of the 215 residential school children whose remains have been discovered buried near the facility in Kamloops, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Alberta city cancels Canada Day fireworks at site of former residential school

City of St. Albert says that the are where the display was planned, is the site of the former Youville Residential School

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Germany's Robin Gosens, left, celebrates Germany's Mats Hummels after scoring his side's fourth goal during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group F match between Portugal and Germany at the football arena stadium in Munich, Saturday, June 19, 2021. (Matthias Hangst/Pool Photo via AP)
Germany clicks at Euro 2020 with 4-2 win over Portugal

MUNICH (AP) — Germany finally clicked into gear at the European Championship,… Continue reading

Fans cheer on their team during the pre-game warmup of Game 3 of the NHL Stanley Cup semifinal with the Montreal Canadiens facing the Vegas Golden Knights, in Montreal, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
COVID-19 concerns give way to Habs Fever in Quebec as Montreal continues playoff run

MONTREAL — The sun hadn’t yet risen in Montreal on Friday morning… Continue reading

Coronavirus cases are on the rise from India to South Africa and Mexico, in a May 19, 2020 story. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
As Brazil tops 500,000 deaths, protests against president

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Anti-government protesters took to the streets in… Continue reading

A black bear cub forages for food along a salmon stream below a bear viewing spot for tourists in the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area in Juneau, Alaska.  (File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Bandit responsible for vehicle break-ins is a black bear

THORNTON, N.H. (AP) — Surveillance video helped police get to the bottom… Continue reading

FILE - In this April 25, 2019 file photo, Editor Rick Hutzell, center, gives a speech to his staff including Chase Cook, Nicki Catterlin, Rachael Pacella, Selene San Felice and Danielle Ohl at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md. The editor of the Capital Gazette, which won a special Pulitzer Prize citation for its coverage and courage in the face of a massacre in its newsroom, is leaving the Maryland newspaper. Hutzell, who worked at the Annapolis paper for more than three decades, authored a farewell column that was published on the paper's website Saturday, June 19, 2021. (Ulysses Muoz/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
Editor of paper that endured newsroom shooting says goodbye

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The editor of the Capital Gazette, which won… Continue reading

Most Read