According to a recent report from Canada’s National Observer, the Canadian Borders Services Agency (CBSA) issued a notice of procurement earlier this week that asks 15 firms to submit proposals for the immediate establishment of an Office of Biometrics and Identity Management, which the agency says will fill an “urgent need” to help it develop a biometric strategy.
The CBSA listed the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as one of the issues that have led to this pressing need, but it also noted that it wants to form a strategy for the use of biometric-related tech as well as other digital solutions to address other priorities such as border management.
The agency said the new Office would be a focal point within the CBSA that will provide guidance on the appropriate use and advancement of biometric technologies, adding that it will place privacy considerations at the forefront of its chosen biometric methods and solutions.
“The CBSA is establishing sufficient privacy and technical safeguards to help ensure that biometric technologies deployed at the border do not disproportionately or adversely impact specific groups of travellers,” said the agency in a release.
Biometric authentication has been growing in popularity in recent years, with the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating this growth due to the increasing need for remote identity verification solutions, and to combat the proportionate rise in cybercrime that has occurred as more people work and conduct personal business from home.
Facial recognition in particular has faced concerns from a number of privacy advocates, particularly in light of a December 2019 NIST study that showed that a number of facial recognition algorithms exhibit a pronounced racial bias against people of color, and in particular women of color.
“I am deeply concerned at the substantial increase in biometric use that this procurement document implies,” said Tamir Israel of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic. “Biometric recognition and identity can be highly intrusive, and we have seen significant pressure to adopt facial recognition technologies in particular at border crossings.”
Similarly, Vito Pilieci, a spokesperson for the federal privacy commissioner, expressed concerns that the watchdog has yet to be consulted regarding the procurement notice put forth by the CBSA.
“Given the sensitivity of biometrics we regularly recommend that institutions ensure that each initiative using biometrics be evaluated for necessity, effectiveness and proportionality as well as other key principles such as ensuring adequate safeguards, limiting retention and use,” said Pilieci.
For its part, the CBSA said that it would be engaging with the privacy commissioner during the development and before the implementation of any biometric identity verification technology.
The agency also noted that the creation of the new office is not related to the issuance of “vaccine passports”, and pointed out that any health-related issues fall under the jurisdiction of Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Source: Canada’s National Observer
June 11, 2021 – by Tony Bitzionis