Facial recognition app Clearview AI is not welcome in Canada, and the company that developed it should remove Canadian faces from its database, the country’s privacy commissioner said on Wednesday.
“What Clearview does is mass surveillance and it’s illegal,” Commissioner Daniel Therrien said at a press conference. He strongly accused the company of putting all society “continuously into the police squad.” Although the Canadian government does not have the legal authority to enforce photo removal, the stance – the strongest stance that an individual country has against the company – is very clear: “This is absolutely impossible. acceptable”.
Clearview has extracted more than three billion photos from social networks and other public websites to build a facial recognition application currently used by more than 2,400 US law enforcement agencies, according to the company. When an officer performs a search, the application provides links to websites on the web where the person’s face appears. The company’s reach and law enforcement app was first reported by The New York Times in January 2020.
Mr. Therrien, along with three regional privacy commissioners in Canada, began an investigation into Clearview a year ago, after the publication of the company’s article. Privacy laws in Canada require everyone’s consent to use their personal data, creating the basis for the government to pursue an investigation. Authorities in Australia and the UK are pursuing a joint investigation of their own.
According to commissioners, dozens of law enforcement agencies and organizations across Canada have used the app, including the Royal Canadian National Police. Last year, a Canadian law enforcement official told The Times that this was “the biggest breakthrough in the past decade” in investigating child sexual abuse crimes. “Thousands of searches” were made, a report from commissioners said, but only one agency paid for the app, mainly because some groups used it through the trial. free.
According to the commissioners’ report, Clearview said it did not need Canadian consent to use biometric information on the face, as that information came from photos available on the public internet. There is an exception to the privacy law for public information. Committee disagreed.
“Information is collected from public websites, such as social media or career profiles, and is then used for unrelated purposes, without the exception of ‘public’, “according to the report. The Trustees oppose the images being used in a way that the person who posted the photos was not intended to and in a manner that could” pose a significant risk of harm to such individuals. “
Clearview AI says they planned to challenge the determination in court. Doug Mitchell, an attorney for Clearview AI, said in a statement: “Clearview AI only collects public information from the Internet that is explicitly authorized. “Clearview AI is a publicly crawled search engine just like much larger companies, including Google, are allowed to operate in Canada.”
The Trustees, who note that they have no authority to penalize companies or to fulfill orders, sent a “letter of intent” to Clearview AI asking it to stop providing facial recognition services. yourself in Canada, stop shaving Canadian faces, and delete already collected pictures.
It’s a tricky order: It’s impossible to tell someone’s nationality or where they live on their own terms.
Hoan Ton-That, chief executive of Clearview AI, said Wednesday that because of the investigation, the company ceased operations in Canada last July, but has no plans to actively remove Canadians from the business. its database.
The company previously had a headache to remove faces after violating local privacy laws. Last year, Clearview was sued in Illinois for violating that state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act, which says companies must get everyone’s consent before using their facial images. . Clearview has attempted to remove the faces of Illinois residents, for example, by viewing photo metadata and geographic information. It also allows state residents to request deletion by uploading their own photo via the “opt-out form”.
Mr. Ton-That said Clearview allows Canadians to opt out of the database in a similar manner.
Mr. Therrien was not satisfied with that solution. “You realize the irony of the remedy, asking individuals to provide more personal information about themselves,” he said.
Mr. Ton-That said he was very eager to fight the results of the investigation in court. “This is a simple matter of public information and who has access and why,” he said. “We don’t want a world where only Google and a few other tech companies have access to public information.”