RCMP accused of giving ‘evasive’ testimony to Commons

The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics (ETHI) met Monday morning to continue its study on the use and impacts of this emerging technology.

The case is ongoing, a year after the publication of a report by federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien, according to which the RCMP’s use of facial recognition software created by the American company Clearview AI was a serious violation Canadian privacy laws.

This software allows users to compare photos against a database of over three billion images.

Matthew Green wearing an NDP mask and pointing at someone.

Matthew Green said Monday he was unhappy with the responses offered by RCMP officers.

Photo: The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick

In a series of tough questions Monday, NDP MP Matthew Green urged Gordon Sage, director general of the RCMP’s Specialized and Sensitive Investigation Services, to state who authorized the use of the software by the RCMP. RCMP in 2018 and who oversaw the process.

Can you please name your predecessor?he asked her.

This simple, seemingly innocuous question sparked a heated argument at the end of which Chief Superintendent Sage finally declared that the officer in question had retired and that he did not think he had the right to name him.

You seem to give more consideration to your predecessor in his right not to be identified – information which is nevertheless public order – than to the billions of people whose images have been compiled and analyzed by [Clearview AI]retorted Mr. Green, who mentioned a major trust issue.

Warning for contempt of Parliament

Later, Conservative MP James Bezan described the responses committee MPs received from the three RCMP officials called to testify as intentionally evasive – and reminded them that they could be found in contempt of Parliament if they did not cooperate.

Some of the responses we’ve received today have been very limited, and I would suggest that witnesses exercise their responsibilities to this committee, because elected officials around this table enjoy parliamentary privilege and expect full answersdid he declare.

Answering us tersely or being evasive does not help us fulfill our work as members of this committee.he pointed out.

James Bezan standing in the Chamber.

Tory MP James Bezan criticized members of the RCMP who came to testify in the Commons for offering “intentionally evasive” answers to MPs.

Photo: The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld

The RCMP initially denied using Clearview AI’s software, in 2020. They later confirmed using the software after the company’s client list was hacked.

In the same year, a survey by New York Times revealed that the software had extracted more than three billion photos from public websites, such as Facebook and Instagram. He then transformed them into a database used by more than 600 organizations, in the United States, Canada and elsewhere.

The company stopped offering its facial recognition services in Canada after the launch of the federal privacy commissioner’s investigation. The RCMP also said it had stopped using the software.

RCMP say they used the technology only three times

Chief Superintendent Sage said on Monday that officially the RCMP has used Clearview AI in just three instances, twice in the child exploitation unit and once to track a fugitive inside. foreign.

Otherwise, there were a lot of members testing the technology to see if it worked, said the senior RCMP officer. To do this, the police often used their own photos or photos of celebrities, he said.

In fact, while testing this technology, we realized that it was not always effective. »

A quote from Gordon Sage, Director General of Specialized and Sensitive Investigation Services, RCMP

Splattered by the Clearview AI affair, the RCMP has promised to be more transparent about its use of new technologies and investigative tools involving the collection and use of personal information.

This new policy should be published by the end of June.

Commissioner Lucki summoned

Before ending their meeting on Monday, ETHI committee members agreed on the need to ask RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki to attend.

In my view, the RCMP has failed to demonstrate its ability to be candid with civilian oversight bodies like the House of Commons and to provide basic information to Canadians who care about their civil libertiessaid MP Matthew Green.

Last week, Commissioner Therrien issued a statement calling on lawmakers to create rules that explicitly specify the circumstances that can allow police to use facial recognition software.


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