Clearview AI violated Canadian privacy laws with facial recognition tool: privacy watchdog

The commissioner says Clearview’s practices had the potential to significantly harm individuals

Clearview AI website

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada says that Clearview AI’s unlawful practices represented mass surveillance of Canadians.

An investigation into the New York-based technology company concluded that Clearview violated federal and provincial privacy laws. The company’s database includes three billion images, including those of Canadians and children.

“The investigation found that Clearview had collected highly sensitive biometric information without the knowledge or consent of individuals,” the report outlines. “Furthermore, Clearview collected, used and disclosed Canadians’ personal information for inappropriate purposes, which cannot be rendered appropriate via consent.”

Clearview actively marketed its services to law enforcement agencies. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police had an account with the company, and a total of 48 accounts were created for law enforcement and other organizations across Canada.

The report states that Clearview’s practices had the potential to significantly harm individuals, the majority of whom have never been and never will be implicated in a crime.

The commissioner has recommended that Clearview stop offering its facial recognition service in Canada, stop collecting images of Canadians and delete all previous images of them.

Although Clearview has agreed to stop operating in Canada, the company hasn’t “demonstrated a willingness” to stop collecting images of Canadians or delete those already collected.

The report outlines that when Clearview was presented with the investigative findings, the company argued that Canadian privacy laws don’t apply to it. Clearview also argued that consent was not required because the information was publicly available. The commissioner rejected these claims among others.

“What Clearview does is mass surveillance and it is illegal. It is completely unacceptable for millions of people who will never be implicated in any crime to find themselves continually in a police lineup,” Commissioner Daniel Therrien said in a news release.

“Yet the company continues to claim its purposes were appropriate, citing the requirement under federal privacy law that its business needs be balanced against privacy rights.”

Privacy authorities note that they will pursue other actions to ensure that Clearview complies with Canadian laws if it continues to dismiss recommendations.

It’s worth noting that a related investigation by the commissioner’s office into the RCMP’s use of Clearview’s technology is still ongoing.

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