RCMP’s Use of Clearview AI’s Facial Recognition Software Amounts to ‘Mass Surveillance,’ Says Privacy Commissioner

The RCMP broke privacy law by using controversial facial recognition software that put innocent Canadians in a “24/7 police lineup,” the federal privacy commissioner says.

According to a new report from CBC, Canada’s national police force performed “hundreds” of searches using facial recognition software Clearview AI’s database, made of billions of photo scraped from the internet without consent. The company then makes the database available for law enforcement and private businesses.

Privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien said that both Clearview AI’s collecting of the images without consent and the RCMP’s usage of that database of unlawfully collected images are illegal.

“The use of facial recognition technology by the RCMP to search through massive repositories of Canadians who are innocent of any suspicion of crime presents a serious violation of privacy,” Therrien said.

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

Clearview’s practices amounted to “mass surveillance,” the commissioner explained, and the RCMP’s use of its database broke the Privacy Act.

“The data involved in (facial recognition technology) speaks to the very core of individual identity and as both commercial and government use of the technology expands, it raises important questions about the kind of society we want to live in,” Therrien said.

Concerns initially arose after investigations revealed the company, which had reportedly extracted more than three billion photos from the internet, had created a database used by hundreds of law enforcement agencies around the world.

Initially, the RCMP denied using Clearview AI’s services, but later confirmed “a few units in the RCMP” had been using the tech to “enhance criminal investigations.”

The privacy commissioner announced last year that Clearview AI would stop offering its facial-recognition services in Canada in response to the privacy investigation.