Toronto police admit using secretive facial recognition technology Clearview AI

Posted In: News Date:Feb 16th, 2020

Toronto police have admitted some of their officers have used Clearview AI — a powerful and controversial facial recognition tool that works by scraping billions of images from the internet — one month after denying using it.

Spokesperson Meaghan Gray said in an email that some members of the force began using the technology in October 2019. She did not say what for or how many times it had been used.

Chief Mark Saunders directed those officers to stop using the technology when he became aware of its use on Feb. 5, she said. Gray did not say who originally approved the use of the app.

Clearview AI can turn up search results, including a person's name and other information such as their phone number, address or occupation, based on nothing more than a photo. The program is not available for public use.

Gray said officers were "informally testing this new and evolving technology." She did not say how the chief found out.

Concerns began mounting about the software earlier this year after a New York Times investigation revealed the software had extracted more than three billion photos from public websites like Facebook and Instagram and used them to create a database used by more than 600 law enforcement agencies in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere.

In January, Toronto police told CBC News they used facial recognition, but denied using Clearview AI. It's unclear if police purchased the technology — if so, it was never disclosed publicly — or were allowed to test it.

At the time, Ontario Provincial Police also said they used facial recognition technology, but wouldn't specify which tools they used. The RCMP would not say what tools it uses.

Vancouver's police department said it had never used the software and had no intention of doing so.

Toronto police have now asked Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner and the Crown Attorney's office to review whether Clearview AI is an appropriate investigative tool, she said.

"Until a fulsome review of the product is completed, it will not be used by the Toronto Police Service."

Peel Regional Police said in a statement they were given a demo version of the software "for testing purposes only, however the Chief has directed that testing cease until a full assessment is undertaken."

The force says it is working with the province's privacy commissioner's office to make sure any future use of facial recognition technology is in keeping with privacy legislation.