Facial Fingerprinting

Facial recognition uses the physical characteristics of our face to create a mathematical model that is unique to us, just like a fingerprint. At CCLA, we think it’s better to call it “facial fingerprinting” rather than recognition, because it gives a more accurate impression of what we’re talking about: an identifier inextricably linked with our body. In a sense, it is an extreme form of carding, because it renders all of us walking ID cards.

Facial recognition runs the risk of annihilating privacy in public. Imagine if someone was able to identify your name, address, place of work, friend group, or many other private factors simply by taking a picture of you in public and running it through a database. While this may sound like the talk of a conspiracy theorist, private companies, such as Clearview AI, have already made this possible by collecting billions of photographs from the internet and social media platforms, then giving access to anyone who pays for a subscription. These companies and their subscribers can then track our consumer behaviour, politicians can use our data to influence decision making, strangers know where you live and work. 

We believe facial recognition puts your Charter rights at risk:

your freedom of association, your freedom of expression, your right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, the presumption of innocence, and even your protest rights

There is also the issue of discrimination that is inextricably tied to current facial recognition programs. Study after study has demonstrated that facial recognition technology is most accurate on white male faces, and gets worse for women, youth, and people of colour, particularly Black individuals. Indeed, many companies who make this technology, including IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon, have voluntarily chosen to stop selling it because they recognize it may do terrible social harm.

Yet in Canada, facial recognition technology has been deployed by police forces without notice, meaningful consultation, or public oversight and accountability.

CCLA does not believe this lack of transparency and privacy should be accepted as a normal part of life in the 21st century.

CCLA believes the question is not how or when to use facial recognition, but if – and until there is a chance to fully assess the risks, the accuracy of the technology, and the cost of mistakes and failures, this technology should not be used, particularly for law enforcement purposes.

Facial Recognition and Policing

Clearview AI is an American tech company that scraped three billion photos of people from the internet, created a facial recognition system to exploit that database, and is marketing access to police forces and other individuals. Our concerns go deeper than the revelations about the use of Clearview AI technology, recognizing that there are other facial recognition systems available and used.

CCLA has grave concerns regarding police transparency in the use of facial recognition technology by Canadian law enforcement. These concerns led CCLA to write to various police forces across the country to ask which of them had considered or were using Clearview without the public’s knowledge and consent.

The Ontario Provincial Police, Edmonton Police Service, and Halifax Regional Police all stated they had no records that matched our inquiry. However, the media subsequently exposed that all three of those police services were already using Clearview AI. We contacted the RCMP and Calgary Police, who asked for an extension of time, and while we waited, the media then reported on their use of Clearview AI. Media stories broke out about three more police forces who we then reached out to. Out of the nine police departments we contacted, eight have been exposed as using Clearview AI.

An investigation launched by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, and the Commissioners of Quebec, Alberta and BC, recently resulted in the withdrawal of Clearview AI from Canada, but results of that investigation are still anticipated and will, we hope, reveal the ways in which Clearview AI failed to meet requirements of Canadian privacy laws, and the degree to which police forces erred in using it without properly assessing it for privacy compliance.

The restraint, the excessive restraint, the detention — all of it was unlawful and liable for damages.

In May 2019, our Executive Director, Michael Bryant, wrote a deputation recommending a moratorium on the future use of facial recognition technology. He further wrote that facial recognition technology is illegal in that it is a mass, indiscriminate, disproportionate, unnecessary and warrantless search of innocent people without reasonable and probable cause.

In July 2020, CCLA co-signed a letter from International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group to Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair asking for a ban on facial recognition surveillance by federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, a meaningful, public consultation on all aspects of facial recognition technology in Canada, and to establish clear and transparent policies and laws regulating the use of facial recognition in Canada.

We think the use of Clearview points to a larger crisis in police accountability when acquiring and using emerging surveillance tools, and we need to stand firm to defend our privacy rights and address the harmful impacts of mass surveillance.

In a free and democratic society, police officers may interfere with the exercise of individual freedoms only to the extent permitted by law..

Our Work in Facial Recognition

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CCLA Presents to ETHI on Facial Recognition

March 30, 2022
CCLA’s Privacy Director Brenda McPhail was invited to speak to the Standing Committee on Access…

Residents of BC, AB, QC protected from Clearview AI by binding orders from their Privacy Regulators

December 14, 2021
CCLA welcomes today’s decisions issued by the BC Information and Privacy Commissioner and the Alberta…

CCLA and Privacy International collaborate on submissions regarding facial recognition guidelines for police agencies

November 17, 2021
The proposed OPC guidance on police use of FRT technology can help ensure police agencies’…

‘Cease And Desist’ – Liberal Party Must Halt Use Of Facial Fingerprinting

June 23, 2021
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) is calling on the Liberal Party of Canada to…

RCMP Use of Face Recognition Tool Violated Privacy Law

June 10, 2021
Today Canada’s Privacy Commissioner released the Special Report to Parliament on Police Use of Facial…

CCLA contributes to consultations on Ontario’s AI Framework

June 4, 2021
CCLA was pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the Ontario government's consultation on…

Clearview AI Engaged In “Mass Surveillance”

February 3, 2021
Clearview AI broke Canadian law when it scraped the internet for 3 billion photos of…

Interim Report: Facial Recognition Technology in Canada

January 4, 2021
What is Facial Recognition Technology and where do we find it? Written for the CCLA…
INCLO InFocus FacialRecognition Report

In Focus: Facial Recognition Tech Stories and Rights Harms from Around the World, (INCLO)

January 1, 2021
Facial Recognition Tech Stories and Rights Harms from Around the World, Published by the International…

Secret Evidence in The Age of Artificial Intelligence

November 13, 2020
Today’s most popular form of artificial intelligence (AI) – machine learning – is often called…

Submission to the Special Committee Reviewing BC’s Personal Information Protection Act

October 23, 2020
On August 14th, CCLA made submissions to the Special Committee to Review BC’s Personal Information…

Montreal makes history to promote transparency and protect privacy.

September 24, 2020
You probably missed the landmark decision by a major Canadian law-maker this week, striking a…

Montreal Surveillance Tech Moratorium Presser

September 18, 2020
CCLA urges Montréal City council to protect their constituents from identity and personal data theft.

Montreal Councillor Rotrand’s Initiative to Mandate Accountability & Transparency

September 17, 2020
We support Councillor Rotrand's initiative to mandate public accountability and transparency for surveillance technologies purchased,…

Facial Fingerprinting Pilot by Police Halted by UK Court of Appeal

August 11, 2020
There was a huge victory today for privacy rights against police use of facial recognition…

Letter to Bill Blair

July 8, 2020
Subject: Ban on use of facial recognition surveillance by federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Make the Choice: Put the Horse Back in the Barn

January 1, 2020
Clearview AI is a tech company that the New York Times reports has scraped 3…

Deputation on Facial Recognition System

May 30, 2019
What’s the problem with facial recognition technology as a police surveillance and investigation tool? It’s…

A Quick Win For Privacy Rights: CCLA vs. Cadillac Fairview

August 7, 2018
Cadillac Fairview, the company that owns numerous popular malls, said it will pause the use…