British Columbia’s Information and Privacy Commissioner is officially investigating the federal Liberal party’s use of facial recognition technology. Commissioner Michael McEvoy originally hinted at the possibility of such an action after the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) filed a complaint in June, and has now decided that the complaint warrants a more thorough consideration.
The complaint itself stems from the Liberal party’s use of facial recognition to verify the identities of those participating in its nominations process. Liberal nominees have traditionally been selected at in-person meetings, where party members choose who will run for office in the general election. However, those meetings were conducted virtually during the pandemic, and that meant that the party needed another way to identify those eligible to vote.
The Liberals ultimately opted to use Jumio’s verification tech, which matches a user’s face to the image on a photo ID to confirm their identity. Several commercial entities (including 7-Eleven and PC Financial) are already using Jumio’s platform for customer onboarding and authentication in Canada, while the Liberal party has previously stated that it consulted with the Federal Privacy Commissioner’s guidelines before deploying the technology.
The problem, according to McEvoy, is that the solution may still violate BC’s Personal Information Protection Act, which gives the province oversight over the activities of political parties. BC is currently the only province in Canada with such a law on the books.
In his announcement, McEvoy noted that the Liberals did provide party members with another way to confirm their status with the party, and advised people to use that instead of facial recognition while the technology is under review. The CCLA, meanwhile, has argued that facial recognition is still unreliable, and that the Liberals’ use of the technology is a tacit endorsement that legitimizes a potentially invasive practice. The organization has called for a temporary ban on the technology until the federal government passes more stringent regulations.
August 11, 2021 – by Eric Weiss