OPS tested facial recognition software, but doesn't use it

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) has tested facial recognition technology but hasn't used it, according to the force's deputy chief.

Force conducted 3-month pilot last year, deputy chief says

More and more police forces are trying out facial recognition technology, but privacy advocates worry about how it might be used. (Photo illustration/CBC)

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) has tested facial recognition technology but hasn't used it, according to the force's deputy chief.

Deputy Chief Steve Bell confirmed Ottawa police concluded a three-month pilot with NeoFace Reveal in March 2019. The pilot was meant to "examine the efficacy of facial recognition technology as an investigative aid in criminal investigations and particularly how the technology could advance investigations and improve solvency," Bell wrote in an email to CBC on Friday.

"OPS concluded a three-month pilot on the facial recognition technology and we do not currently use this technology." 

That confirmation comes after Toronto police confirmed they've been using a controversial facial recognition app called Clearview AI.

Clearview AI works by scraping billions of images from the internet. Using nothing more than a photo, it can then turn up a person's name and other information including their address, phone number and occupation.

A New York Times investigation revealed the software uses three billion photos from social media sites including Facebook and Instagram. Those photos were then compiled to create a database used by more than 600 law enforcement agencies in the United States, Canada and other countries. 

'No consent, no notice'

Ann Cavoukian, a former Ontario privacy commissioner, said she was dismayed when she learned Toronto police used the technology. 

"Clearview AI has scraped 3.9 billion facial images off of public social media.… No consent, no notice, nothing," Cavoukian said.

She said one of the biggest dangers with facial recognition tools is accuracy, as they can wrongly identify an innocent citizen as a suspect or person of interest. 

Ontario Provincial Police also said they used facial recognition technology, but wouldn't specify which tools they used. The RCMP also declined to say which tools they've used.

According to Bell, the three-month pilot was a test of NeoFace Reveal, and only a test.

"There are no established timelines for the acquisition and implementation of facial recognition software," the deputy chief said Friday.

Bell said before the OPS begins using any such technology, it will consult with the community "to ensure the protection of privacy and human rights."

Bell said the force will test any new technology in a "lab" setting before deploying it, and establish clear guidelines for its use.

With files from Kimberley Molina, Jayme Poisson, John Rieti and The Current


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