Sudbury

Controversial face recognition software a 'tool' for Sudbury police, but not yet in use

As Canada’s privacy commissioner says he will begin investigating concerns around Clearview AI, police in Sudbury say they have not yet used the controversial face recognition software.

American-owned firm Clearview AI may be investigated by Canada's privacy commissioner after concerns raised

People walk past a poster simulating facial recognition software at the Security China 2018 exhibition on public safety and security in Beijing, China October 24, 2018. Sudbury police say they have access to, but have not yet used, the software. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

As Canada's privacy commissioner says he will begin investigating concerns around Clearview AI, police in Sudbury say they have not yet used the controversial face recognition software.

The powerful new app can identify a person's name, phone number and even their address by comparing their photo to a database of billions of images scraped from the internet.

Detective Sergeant Blair Ramsay, the head of Greater Sudbury Police Services' child exploitation and internet crimes division, said police should have access to the best tools available, despite the immediate privacy concerns. 

"If we're able to use it, I think it would be a good tool for us," Ramsay said. "I know just from the volume of work that goes into searching a number of different areas on the Internet, if we have a tool available to us that will work for us and expedite the process, we'll definitely, definitely use it."

Detective Sergeant Blair Ramsay is with the Greater Sudbury Police's child exploitation and internet crimes unit. (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

Ramsay said it comes with a caveat – police need to be "definitely" responsible about gathering information the legal way. 

"It's something we want to make sure that we're gathering information lawfully," Ramsay said. "But that's to be determined at this point."

Privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien says he will be joined in the probe by ombudsmen from British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec.

The investigation follows media reports that raised concerns about whether the American-owned company is collecting and using personal information without consent.

Ramsay said Sudbury police have not yet used Clearwater, but they do have access to it. He said they would likely use the software to identify victims in exploitation videos or images. 

"When we find an image where the child has not been identified, we can crop that image, copy the face, and run it through a similar database and to see whether we can identify that child."

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