The Canadian Privacy Commissioner has ruled that the RCMP violated the country’s Privacy Act through its use of Clearview AI’s facial recognition system. Commissioner Daniel Therrien has given the RCMP one year to improve its privacy policies and training procedures, and the RCMP has indicated that it will follow that request.
However, the RCMP did make a point of objecting to the Commissioner’s decision. In his report, Therrien called particular attention to a clause in the Privacy Act that bars any government agency from collecting personal information from Canadian citizens, unless that agency needs that information to fulfill its designated purpose. He essentially argued that the RCMP tried to get around that clause through its contract with Clearview AI, and that the organization should have known that it was entering shaky legal territory when it partnered with the company.
Clearview’s facial recognition database includes billions of images that were obtained without consent. Therrien ruled that those practices violated the Canadian Privacy Act in a separate decision passed down in February.
In its counterargument, the RCMP claimed that it cannot be held liable for the indiscretions of its partners, and that it does not have any obligation to ensure that those partners collect information in a lawful manner. Therrien obviously disagreed with that assessment, ruling that a Canadian law enforcement agency should be expected to do better due diligence to make sure that it complies with Canadian law. He then went on to imply that the Clearview contract highlighted systemic failures that need to be addressed.
“The use of facial recognition technology by the RCMP to search through massive repositories of Canadians who are innocent of any suspicion of crime presents a serious violation of privacy,” wrote Therrien. “A government institution cannot collect personal information from a third party agent if that third party agent collected the information unlawfully.”
Therrien criticized the RCMP for objecting to his decision, insofar as it suggests that the agency does not seem to understand what it did wrong in the first place. He also criticized the RCMP for its lack of transparency and accountability, noting that the agency did not give any reason for conducting a facial recognition search in the vast majority (85 percent) of cases.
The ruling comes only a few short months after another report found that the RCMP’s BC division deliberately misled the public about its own use of facial recognition, and that it violated its own internal policies with one of its contracts. The RCMP was Clearview’s last remaining Canadian customer when the company terminated all of its contracts in the country in response to the Commissioner’s investigation.
June 11, 2021 – by Eric Weiss