Privacy Commissioner claims facial recognition company Clearview AI violated Canadian privacy laws


A new report from the federal privacy commissioner and three provincial counterparts claims that Clearview AI, an American company that offers biometric security software, has unlawfully violated the privacy rights of Canadians.

Michael McEvoy called Clearview AI’s collection and sale of biometric data “deeply troubling.”

The report follows a months-long investigation into Clearview AI conducted by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) and privacy protection authorities in Alberta, British Columbia, and Quebec. The investigation determined the New York-based company collected “highly sensitive biometric information without the knowledge or consent of individuals.”

“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,” said Michael McEvoy, information and privacy commissioner for British Columbia, in a statement.

Clearview AI’s technology allows users to take a photograph of a person, and if the photo matches a face in its large image database, the company may be able to provide information about that person, including names.

Several police forces in Canada have publicly admitted to using Clearview’s services. In February, the RCMP confirmed it had also been using Clearview AI’s technology as part of its investigations into online child sexual exploitation. A second investigation by the federal privacy commissioner is looking into how the RCMP used Clearview’s technology.

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The commissioners claimed Clearview’s collection of images and biometric facial recognition arrays represents mass surveillance of individuals by a private entity. The report also said Clearview’s actions create the risk of “significant harm” to individuals whose information was collected or shared.

The commissioners’ preliminary report released in 2020 recommended that Clearview stop offering its facial recognition services to Canadian clients, cease the collection, use, and disclosure of images and facial arrays collected from Canadians, and delete images of individuals in Canada.

Over the summer, Clearview announced it would no longer offer its facial recognition services in Canada, following the launch of the two investigations into its practices. However, the OPC said Clearview “disagreed” with the findings of the investigation and did not “demonstrate a willingness” to follow its other recommendations.

“Should Clearview maintain its refusal, the four authorities will pursue other actions available under their respective acts to bring Clearview into compliance with Canadian laws,” the OPC said.

Image source Wikimedia Commons.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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