The Canadian federal government is trying to protect the Royal Canadian Mounted Police from a potential class action lawsuit that stems from the RCMP’s use of Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology. The suit was originally filed by Quebec photographer Ha Vi Doan, but could apply to millions of Canadians if the Federal Court grants class-action certification.
The federal government is trying to prevent that from happening. To do so, it is arguing that Doan cannot prove that the RCMP searched for and accessed photos of her specifically, and that she therefore cannot prove that her rights were violated or that she suffered any material damages. The government’s lawyers also suggested that using a search tool like Clearview is not materially different from performing a manual search on an app like Facebook.
For her part, Doan is arguing that the RCMP should have known that Clearview was committing privacy and copyright violations when it signed a contract with the company. On that front, it is worth noting that Canadian Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien agrees with that assessment. Therrien ruled that the RCMP partnered with Clearview in an effort to get around a clause that prevents government agencies from collecting personal information. Instead, the RCMP relied on Clearview to gain access to information that it could not gather itself, and the contract was therefore in violation of Canadian privacy law.
The RCMP used Clearview AI to perform 521 searches between October 2019 and July of 2020, when Clearview terminated all of its contracts in Canada in response to privacy legislation. The agency was the only organization in Canada with an active contract at that time. During Therrien’s investigation, the RCMP had claimed that it had primarily performed searches to find missing children and victims of sexual abuse, and found three children as a result of those efforts. Therrien concluded that in the overwhelming majority of cases, the agency could not account for its use of facial recognition, and that it had unlawfully accessed images of Canadian citizens through the Clearview platform.
The federal government’s decision is at least somewhat surprising in light of that report. Therrien had previously ruled that Clearview AI’s system was itself in violation of Canada’s privacy laws, since it gathered photos of Canadian citizens without their knowledge or consent. As a photographer, Doan is also arguing that she has a copyright claim to the images she shares online, and that Clearview breached that when it added those images to its database. Doan was able to confirm with Clearview that the company had seven images of her in its database as of July of 2020, and that many of those images seem to have been taken from Doan’s website and her Twitter and Instagram accounts.
Doan is now seeking unspecified damages, and is asking the court to force the RCMP to delete any information obtained through Clearview searches involving Canadian residents. Class action certification, meanwhile, would extend the lawsuit to any Canadian copyright holders, and to anyone whose images are being stored on Clearview AI’s servers.
Source: Canada’s National Observer
May 13, 2022 – by Eric Weiss