BCCLA Reacts: Privacy Investigation Finds Law Enforcement Agencies in Canada Used Illegal Mass Surveillance Software Tool

For immediate release

In light of today’s report from four privacy commissioners regarding the illegal practices of Clearview AI, the BC Civil Liberties Association reiterates its call for a ban on facial recognition software by all law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh)/Vancouver, B.C – This morning the Privacy Commissioners of Canada, British Columbia, Quebec and Alberta released their findings from a joint investigation into the practices of Clearview AI, a commercial vendor whose facial recognition software has been used by Canadian law enforcement agencies. The commissioners were unequivocal in their findings that Clearview AI gathered images of faces of Canadians from websites without individual express consent and used them in a commercial activity. The privacy commissioners unequivocally found this to be illegal.

The report found that 48 law enforcement agencies have run thousands of searches using Clearview AI’s facial recognition software database. This database includes millions of images of individuals in Canada, including children, that were collected from the internet without individual consent.

“The report confirms our suspicions – that millions of people in Canada have had their privacy violated and have been put at risk of suffering significant harms” says Meghan McDermott, BCCLA Senior Staff Counsel and Interim Policy Director. “While we welcome the strong rebuke of Clearview AI’s practices, we are horrified to learn that Clearview AI still has so much of our sensitive personal information in its commercial databases. This whole scandal points to the weakness of our privacy laws in Canada and our inability to hold public and private bodies accountable when our sensitive personal information is exploited.”

Today’s investigative findings are separate from another ongoing investigation into the RCMP’s use of Clearview AI. In addition to the prima facie violation of privacy that is at issue in contexts like this, the BCCLA is also gravely concerned that law enforcement and intelligence agencies are using biometric software from vendors like Clearview AI given the myriad studies that have shown there are structural anti-Black racial biases in facial recognition surveillance.

“At a time when society is pushing to address systemic racism in policing, adopting a technology that is known for its racial biases is a move in the wrong direction,” says Harsha Walia, Executive Director. “Now is the time for all levels of government in Canada to enact bans on facial recognition surveillance by law enforcement and intelligence agencies.”


Media Contacts

Meghan McDermott, Senior Staff Counsel and Interim Policy Director, [email protected]

Harsha Walia, Executive Director, [email protected] or 778-885-0040