Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly has shed some light on the facial recognition trial that the force carried out in the first three months of 2019. The public first found out about the trial after the exposure of Clearview AI, though the Ottawa police board was aware of the program at the time.
While the facial recognition trial predates Sloly’s tenure as Chief of Police, he nevertheless confirmed that the trial wrapped up in March, and had not been renewed in the months since. The pilot was conducted with software from NeoFace Reveal – which is notably not Clearview AI – and was only used to search for matches in the department’s existing mugshot database.
“It was not crawling social media platforms, pulling in CCTV feeds and collecting massive data,” said Sloly. “These were mug shots already lawfully secured by the organization.”
Sloly went on to explain that the police used the technology to narrow a list of potential suspects ahead of a more rigorous investigation. He compared the process to the tips the police sometimes receive from the general public, and noted that the police did make several indictments with the help of the technology.
The program was discontinued despite its modest success, though Sloly indicated that the force would likely revisit the technology in the future. He argued that every industry will inevitably use facial recognition now that it exists, but he emphasized the need for transparency, which he believes will be necessary to maintain the trust of the local community.
“How we enter into that process, how thoughtful we are, will be the measure around how the public, in the broadest sense, will accept new applications of new technologies,” he said.
To that end, Sloly said that last year’s pilot was carried out primarily to assess facial recognition’s potential as a law enforcement tool. Any new program would need to go through a legal, ethical, and privacy assessment and be disclosed to the police board and to the public before being implemented.
February 26, 2020 – by Eric Weiss