A quartet of Canadian privacy commissioners have completed their investigation into Clearview AI. In doing so, they determined that the company’s collection of biometric data amounts to mass surveillance, and represents a clear violation of federal and provincial privacy laws.
The joint investigation was carried out by the federal privacy commissioner, in collaboration with colleagues from Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia. The commissioners do not have the authority to levy a fine, but have demanded that Clearview delete any images of Canadians in its database, and refrain from gathering images of Canadians or selling its product in Canada in the future.
Clearview disputed the ruling, and argued that Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) gives companies free rein to use public information for commercial purposes. However, the commissioners outright rejected that assessment. They stated that PIPEDA’s ‘publicly available’ clause does not permit the use of images shared on social media sites for unrelated purposes.
“The company essentially claims that individuals who placed or permitted their images to be placed on the Internet lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in such images, that the information was publicly available, and that the company’s appropriate business interests and freedom of expression should prevail,” said federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien. “My colleagues and I think these arguments must be rejected.”
It is “unacceptable and deeply troubling that a company would create a giant database of our biometric data and sell it for profit without recognizing its invasive nature,” added BC privacy commissioner Michael McEvoy.
The total number of Canadians in the Clearview database is unclear, though the commissioners estimate that the number is in the millions. All of those images would have been gathered without consent, and without the knowledge of the people in the photos.
Clearview AI opened 48 accounts in Canada, most of which belonged to law enforcement agencies like the RCMP and the Waterloo police. However, the company suspended all of its contracts in the country in the wake of the privacy investigation. The London, Ottawa, and Toronto police departments have also confirmed unauthorized uses of Clearview AI.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has called for a temporary ban on the use of facial recognition technology in the country.
February 4, 2021 – by Eric Weiss