The Ottawa Police Service is being scrutinized for carrying out an undisclosed facial recognition pilot in the first three months of 2019. The pilot ended in March, and was explored as part of a CCTV initiative in the city’s ByWard Market.
While the police had publicly discussed the CCTV cameras, they were not as forthcoming about the potential use of facial recognition. That news only emerged in the wake of the New York Times‘ report on Clearview AI, which quietly licensed its massive facial recognition database to hundreds of law enforcement agencies in North America.
In the initial report, Clearview AI claimed that its client roster included several Canadian police forces, which prompted followup questions from Canadian media outlets, including the Ottawa Citizen. However, it’s still unclear if the Ottawa Police Service is amongst that clientele. The organization did not specify whose technology it had used during its 2019 trial.
The Toronto Police, on the other hand, admitted that several officers had been casually using Clearview’s software without the knowledge or approval of the higher-ups. Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders claims that he ended the practice once he discovered what was happening.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police opted not to discuss any technologies it might or might not be using, while the Ontario Provincial Police did not respond to questions from the Ottawa Citizen.
According to Ottawa Police Deputy Chief Uday Jaswal, the pilot was set up to assess the value of facial recognition as an investigative tool. Despite the lack of transparency, the force indicated that it would consult with the community and privacy experts before implementing facial recognition.
“The pilot served to highlight the technological and procedural challenges that would have to be addressed in order to implement the tool at OPS, in addition to the privacy and ethical challenges,” said Jaswal.
The report suggests that the contentious debate around facial recognition technology will not be going away anytime soon. A recent Utah survey found moderate support for facial recognition, but several municipalities have banned the practice and London police have faced considerable backlash from privacy advocates due to their own facial recognition program.
Source: Ottawa Citizen
February 14, 2020 – by Eric Weiss