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Use of facial recognition | Privacy commissioners want police forces to be more supervised

(Ottawa) The federal privacy commissioner and his provincial counterparts recommend the establishment of a legal framework limiting the use of facial recognition by police forces.

Posted at 2:57 p.m.

Emilie Bergeron
The Canadian Press

“(This technology) can be extremely invasive, enable large-scale surveillance, produce biased results, and undermine human rights, including the right to participate freely, without surveillance, in democratic life,” said the federal commissioner, Daniel Therrien, testifying Monday before a parliamentary committee examining the question.

He added in the same breath that facial recognition also has benefits “if used responsibly”.

However, Mr. Therrien and his provincial and territorial counterparts believe that the body of Canadian laws on the protection of privacy does not offer sufficient guarantees against the excesses of the use of facial recognition.

In a joint declaration, they are therefore calling for the establishment of new specific legislation or an update of current laws to give them more bite in the face of facial recognition.

“This is one of the lessons of recent years […] that we must put an end to the self-regulatory regime of companies and those that are in the field of surveillance should be particularly targeted,” said Commissioner Therrien.

The president of the Commission d’accès à l’information du Québec, Diane Poitras, argued that the powers available to her organization must be “enhanced”.

“The popularity of biometrics is leading to a certain trivialization of its implications for citizens,” argued the woman who also testified before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

According to Mme Poitras, the population often does not have the necessary tools to grasp all that the collection of personal data obtained by facial recognition entails.

“It is an extremely complex technology and the capacity for the citizen who is asked for consent to (give it in an) informed way is, in my opinion, very limited”, she summarized.

The provincial and federal commissioners recommend that it be specified, in the law, in which circumstances it is appropriate to use facial recognition. In their joint statement, they mention that this could be justified to find a missing person.

On the other hand, they plead for certain uses to be systematically ruled out. “In our view, these limits should include an explicit ban on any use (…) to monitor people participating in a peaceful protest, and any use that could give rise to mass surveillance”, can we read.

The commissioners also want an independent body to monitor how facial recognition is used.

Mr. Therrien said he expects the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, of which he is the head, to assume responsibilities in this regard.

“But facial recognition challenges other rights, for example the right to equality (and) democratic rights,” he added, adding that other organizations should be involved. He mentioned the idea of ​​the Canadian Human Rights Commission being part of it.

Mr. Therrien concluded last summer that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) violated the Privacy Act using facial recognition technology from the American company Clearview AI.

The New York-based company, which no longer conducts business in Canada, has been ordered by the Commission d’accès à l’information du Québec to delete the images and biometric data collected without the authorization of individuals.

Clearview AI’s technology enables the collection of large numbers of images from a variety of sources, which can help law enforcement agencies, financial institutions and other customers identify individuals.

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