The RCMP is once again facing heavy scrutiny for its questionable use of facial recognition technology. The latest controversy focuses specifically on the organization’s British Columbia Division, which violated the organization’s own rules when it signed a contract with a US-based facial recognition provider back in 2016.
The problem, according to critics, is that RCMP policy requires formal approval for any software purchases greater than $500, and for any purchase greater than $10,000. The BC-based E Division, meanwhile, spent $20,000 USD on searches with IntelCenter without notifying any superior officers about their use of the platform. The Division also took several other steps to hide its use of the platform, describing it as either software or a photography service in order to escape the stricter oversight they would normally face when using facial recognition.
The contract with IntelCenter ended in 2019, and was never picked up at the national level. The RCMP has never discussed the contract publicly, and only revealed that it had used the platform in response to access to information requests.
Based on the price tag, the RCMP used IntelCenter to perform thousands of searches, though the agency did not disclose the true number. IntelCenter itself maintains a database of 700,000 faces that have purportedly been associated with terrorist activity, though many of those images are pulled from public sources like social media. In that regard, IntelCenter is comparable to Clearview AI, which also scrapes images from social media.
The RCMP was the last Canadian organization with a Clearview contract when the company suspended its operations in the country in response to a privacy investigation. The Canadian Privacy Commissioner (and the BC Privacy Commissioner) have since completed that investigation, ruling that the company’s data collection practices violate Canadian privacy law.
IntelCenter’s facial recognition system was built in collaboration with Morpho, which would later go on to become IDEMIA. The RCMP agents who procured the contract were censured for circumnavigating their official channels, though that disciplinary action did not result in the termination of the arrangement.
Privacy advocates, of course, expressed concerns about potential bias, and about the lack of oversight that allowed the RCMP to partner with IntelCenter in the first place. The Vancouver police are in the process of drafting a new facial recognition policy, while the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has asked the government to ban the use of facial recognition until such policies can be put into place.
Source: The Tyee
April 30, 2021 – by Eric Weiss