Ban federal use of facial-recognition tools, groups urge Trudeau government

Ban federal use of facial-recognition tools, groups urge Trudeau government

OTTAWA — Dozens of groups and individuals working to protect privacy, human rights and civil liberties want the Trudeau government to ban the use of facial-recognition surveillance by federal law-enforcement and intelligence agencies.

In an open letter to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, they call the technology “highly problematic,” given its lack of accuracy and invasive nature, and say it poses a threat to Canadians’ fundamental rights.

In the absence of meaningful policy or regulation governing facial recognition, it cannot be considered safe for use in Canada, they tell the minister.

The letter, made public Wednesday, is signed by Tim McSorley, national co-ordinator of the Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, and Laura Tribe, executive director of Open Media, who are spearheading the campaign.

It is endorsed by 29 other prominent groups including Amnesty International Canada, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association and Privacy International, as well as 46 academics, researchers, lawyers and other civil-society members.

The letter also calls on the government to initiate a meaningful public consultation on all aspects of facial-recognition technology in Canada and to establish clear, transparent policies and laws regulating its use, including reforms to federal privacy law.

The government responded Wednesday by saying it is reviewing legislation, policies and programs related to all emerging technologies, including facial recognition.

The letter to Blair comes as concerns mount over police killing and mistreatment of Black and Indigenous people, prompting widespread discussion about curbing the powers and resources of law-enforcement agencies.

“At a time like this, the public should be certain of the fact that their rights and freedoms are protected,” the letter says.

The federal privacy commissioner said this week that U.S. firm Clearview AI will stop offering its facial-recognition services in Canada in response to an investigation by the commissioner and three provincial counterparts.

Clearview AI’s technology worries many privacy advocates because it apparently allows for the collection of huge numbers of images from various sources with the aim of helping police forces, financial institutions and other clients identify individuals.

Clearview’s retreat includes an indefinite suspension of the company’s contract with the RCMP, its last client in Canada.

Federal officials have also used photo-matching technology to pinpoint people — all wanted on immigration warrants — who used false identities to apply for travel documents.

But the letter to Blair says inadequate regulation of facial recognition and a lack of information means it is impossible to know which police forces and intelligence agencies are using the tool, and to what ends, including during protests.

It cites studies that have found the technology to be inaccurate and especially prone to misidentifying the faces of women and people with darker skin.

“These errors can lead already marginalized communities to be even more likely to face profiling, harassment and violations of their fundamental rights,” the letter says.

This is particularly concerning given the technology’s use in situations where biases are common, including when individuals are travelling and crossing borders as well as in the context of criminal investigations, and national security and anti-terrorism operations, it says.

“If, as federal officials have said, the Canadian government is serious about ending racial disparities in policing, banning facial recognition surveillance is a clear first step.”

Blair’s office referred questions about the call for a ban to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains, who oversees the federal ”digital charter,” intended to make Canada a leader in the new data-driven global economy.

“Our government is currently reviewing the related legislation, policies and programs to bring the digital charter to life as it pertains to all emerging technologies, including facial recognition,” said John Power, a spokesman for Bains.

“In the meantime, Canada’s existing privacy laws continue to apply. Our government will ensure the privacy of Canadians is respected, support responsible innovation and enhance reasonable enforcement powers.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 8, 2020.

—Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Photo Submitted by the Gord Bamford Foundation)
Lacombe’s Gord Bamford to perform a virtual concert for a good cause

The concert aims to raise awareness for Operation Santa Clause

Alberta Health Services' central zone jumped from 162 active COVID-19 cases to 178 on Friday. Five additional deaths were reported provincewide, bringing the toll to 323. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
622 new COVID-19 cases set another daily high Friday

Province confirmed 622 additional cases Friday

The Under $100 Art Market is asking artists interested in selling their art to fill out and submit the online form. Photo courtesy Maureen MacKenzie.
Lacombe’s Under $100 Art Market returns for the second year

The market will be held during this year’s Light Up the Night festival

Alberta children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

Alisha Bryan holds a handful of poppy sticks at the poppy laying ceremony on Oct. 28. (Alannah Page/Lacombe Express)
Remembrance Day will look a little different this year for Lacombe

The Lacombe Legion is taking COVID-19 precautions for people who want to pay their respects.

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

(Photo Submitted by the Gord Bamford Foundation)
Lacombe’s Gord Bamford to perform a virtual concert for a good cause

The concert aims to raise awareness for Operation Santa Clause

City of Wetaskiwin Mayor presenting the AUMA Above & Beyond Award to John Maude and Susan Quinn. Ren Goode/ City of Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin County residents win the AUMA Above & Beyond Award

John Maude and Susan Quinn are being recognized for their role in Wetaskiwin’s sustainability.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)
95-year-old Ilona Carter flies again

Takes to the skies over Ponoka

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. Alberta Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says the province plans to bring in a new way of licensing and monitoring child-care facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Alberta proposes legislation to change rules on child-care spaces

Record-keeping, traditionally done on paper, would be allowed digitally

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Sen. Kim Pate is shown in Toronto in an October 15, 2013, file photo. The parliamentary budget office says a proposed law that would give judges discretion on whether to apply a lesser sentence for murder could save the federal government $8.3 million per year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Judicial discretion for mandatory minimum sentences for murder would save $8.3M: PBO

The result would be fewer people in long-term custody at federal correctional institutions, experts say

Most Read