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Science + Tech

Clearview, Maker of RCMP’s Facial Recognition Software, Exits Canada

Watchdog says it’s still investigating the AI collector of billions of faces and personal info.

Bryan Carney 7 Jul 2020 | TheTyee.ca

Bryan Carney is director of web production at The Tyee and reports on technology and privacy issues. You can follow his very occasional tweets at @bpcarney.

Canada’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner yesterday put out a news release indicating that controversial facial recognition company Clearview AI will be ceasing operations in the country.

“The investigation of Clearview by privacy protection authorities for Canada, Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec remains open,” said the release. “The authorities still plan to issue findings in this matter given the importance of the issue for the privacy rights of Canadians.”

The issue is not only stopping Clearview from collecting more personal information of Canadians but deleting what it already has stored.

The RCMP’s contract will be suspended indefinitely, the release says, adding that the RCMP is the last remaining Canadian client of the firm.

The RCMP previously denied using the firm. However, documents obtained by The Tyee confirmed the force signed a contract with the company beginning Oct. 29, 2019.

The RCMP was forced to reverse its denial after it was named in a leaked list of clients Feb. 27.

That list was part of a New York Times report on Clearview AI that indicated at least one then-unnamed Canadian force was using the software. Clearview claims to have a massive database of images scraped from the internet including social media.

The OPC did not reply by publication time on whether its report covers any potential use of the software on a trial basis.

The RCMP has been criticized for classifying technology as being in the “testing” or “design” phases when employed in active investigations. The classification allows the force to delay checks intended to inform parliament of potential privacy impacts.

Technologies the RCMP has treated this way include drones and social media monitoring in its “Project Wide Awake” program exposed by The Tyee.

The New York Times report on Clearview AI also referenced how police forces across the U.S. were using the program on a trial basis.

It is unclear if Clearview is immediately blocking all usage of its tool done on a trial basis in Canada, before a police unit may be formally considered a client. The RCMP admitted several of its units used the software in trials but refused to name the units when asked by The Tyee.

Though the RCMP has previously denied it authorized use of any facial recognition technology, The Tyee also found at least one other use of such technology dating back to 2002.

Clearview is apparently not the only facial recognition system the RCMP has used. The force told The Tyee that the recognition system in the Computerized Arrest and Booking System, or CABS, was still active and was only being used by police in B.C.

The RCMP refused to comment on any other facial technologies it has approved for use.  [Tyee]

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