Three provincial privacy watchdogs have ordered facial recognition company Clearview AI to stop collecting, using and disclosing images of people without their consent.

The privacy authorities of British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec also require the American company to delete the images and biometric data collected without the permission of the people.

The binding orders released Tuesday follow a joint investigation by the three provincial authorities with the office of federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien.

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Clearview AI to stop facial recognition services in Canada, says privacy watchdog

Watchdogs discovered in February that Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology resulted in massive surveillance of Canadians and violated federal and provincial laws governing personal information.

They said the New York-based company’s collection of billions of images of people from the internet to help law enforcement, financial institutions and other customers identify individuals was a clear violation of privacy rights. of Canadians.

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Orders from provincial authorities on Tuesday also require Clearview AI to stop offering its facial recognition services in all three provinces. Clearview has not served clients in Canada since the summer of 2020, but has hinted that it could return.

Therrien’s office lacks similar ordering powers to provincial ones, prompting calls over the years to update outdated federal privacy legislation.

“We welcome these important actions taken by our provincial counterparts,” Therrien said in a statement. “While Clearview stopped offering its services in Canada during the investigation, it refused to stop the collection and use of Canadians’ data or to delete images already collected.”

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The company told BC Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy in May that it was “simply not possible” to identify whether the people in the photos were in Canada at the time the image was taken or whether they were Canadian citizens or residents.

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In response, McEvoy noted Clearview’s intention, stated in a US court proceeding, to limit the collection and use of personal information in the state of Illinois.

In its order Tuesday, McEvoy rejected the company’s “mere assertion that it cannot comply” and concluded that it has the means and the ability to severely limit, if not eliminate, the collection, use and disclosure of residents’ personal information. from British Columbia.

“In other words, it is not about not being able, but about not doing it.”

Doug Mitchell, an attorney for the company, said Clearview AI is a search engine that only collects public data just like much larger companies, including Google, which is allowed to operate in Canada.

Since Clearview is not operating in Canada right now, the company believes the orders are beyond the powers of provincial privacy commissioners, as well as unnecessary, Mitchell said Tuesday.

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“Restricting the free flow of publicly available information in the sense proposed by the privacy commissioners would be contrary to the Canadian constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression.”

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Clearview AI exited the Canadian market, but the problem created by its business model remains, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said in applauding the provincial crackdown.

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The company still has, and uses, possibly millions of photos of people from Canada, which it continues to sell to law enforcement agencies around the world, the civil liberties association said.

“This potentially leaves all Canadian residents who have ever posted photos online on a wide range of popular online platforms in perpetual police line,” the association added.

“We are deeply concerned that inconsistencies in privacy laws mean that millions of others in other Canadian jurisdictions remain unprotected by this order.”

The association says facial recognition not only amounts to a dangerous form of mass surveillance, but is fundamentally flawed given inaccuracies in the technology that can effectively discriminate against non-white people.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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