Privacy watchdog says RCMP’s use of Clearview AI violated privacy laws

The privacy commissioner says the RCMP's use of the technology was a 'serious violation' of privacy

Clearview AI website

An investigation by the privacy commissioner has concluded that the RCMP’s use of Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology violated the Privacy Act.

“The use of FRT by the RCMP to search through massive repositories of Canadians who are innocent of any suspicion of crime presents a serious violation of privacy,” Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said in a statement.

“A government institution cannot collect personal information from a third party agent if that third party agent collected the information unlawfully.”

Therrien’s office notes that the RCMP has not agreed with its conclusion that the police force violated privacy laws by using Clearview AI.

“While the OPC maintains the onus was on the RCMP to ensure the database it was using was compiled legally, the RCMP argued doing so would create an unreasonable obligation and that the law does not expressly impose a duty to confirm the legal basis for the collection of personal information by its private sector partners,” the commissioner’s office stated.

Last year, it was revealed that the RCMP was among several police forces in Canada that were using the technology. Users of the technology were able to match photographs of people against the images in Clearview AI’s vast database.

The RCMP is no longer using the technology, as Clearview AI stopped offering the technology in Canada last summer during the privacy commissioner’s investigation into the company.

The investigation found that Clearview AI violated federal private sector privacy laws by creating a database of more than three billion images scraped from the internet without users’ consent.

The RCMP has now agreed to implement the commissioner’s recommendations to improve its policies, systems and training. The police force is also creating a new oversight function to ensure that new technologies are implemented in a manner that respects privacy rights.

Further, the privacy commissioner’s office is launching a public consultation to help establish clearer rules about such technology and consider whether new laws are needed.