Ottawa, Ontario – Today, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) released its report into the RCMP’s use of a facial recognition technology called Clearview AI. In February of 2020, the RCMP publicly acknowledged its use of this technology, however, we ceased using Clearview AI in July 2020, when the company ended its operations in Canada. The OPC’s report and recommendations serve as an important step forward in providing further guidance to law enforcement on the use of new and emerging technologies.
Working closely with the OPC during their investigation has helped to strengthen the relationship between our two organizations, and we appreciate the recommendations that have been included in the report. We believe that they will serve to strengthen the RCMP’s process for assessing new and emerging technologies.
We acknowledge that there is always room for improvement and we continually seek opportunities to strengthen our policies, procedures and training.
The RCMP has accepted all of the recommendations of the OPC and has already begun efforts towards their implementation.
Access to Information and Privacy Reforms
The RCMP is in the process of modernizing its Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Program. A key component of this is to enhance training opportunities for all RCMP employees to reinforce our obligations under the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act.
For instance, the RCMP is in the final stages of developing an Access to Information and Privacy Fundamentals training course that is slated for release later this year. The training will remind RCMP employees of their obligations when managing the collection, use, disclosure, retention and disposal of personal information.
We will also be examining training geared to managers/decision-makers that deals specifically with privacy practices including the Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) process. In the immediate term, we are leveraging our relationship with the OPC to provide training sessions on the drafting and development of PIAs to help our programs ensure that programs are being designed in a way that fully respects and protects the privacy of Canadians.
The RCMP’s ATIP program will also work to enhance the guidance it is providing to employees on privacy issues, including the development of PIAs, and to help reiterate and reinforce the critical importance of privacy in the adoption of new programs, policies and technologies.
Adoption of new technologies
The RCMP also recognizes that there is a need to institute a more centralized process for the adoption of new tools and technologies.
In March 2021, we created the National Technologies Onboarding Program (NTOP), to centralize and bring more transparency to the processes that govern how the RCMP identifies, evaluates, tracks and approves the use of new and emerging technologies and investigative tools that involve the collection and use of personal information. This program will establish standardized processes for the assessment of developed and/or procured technologies and services, and evaluate compliance of collection techniques with privacy legislation. In consultation with our ATIP program and legal services, NTOP will provide guidance to RCMP employees on operational processes and procedures for implementing new technologies in support of investigations, and help to identify those instances when a PIA is required, before a new tool is used operationally.
We continue to develop NTOP and are working towards operational status by the fall of 2021.
Use of facial recognition technology
In addition to the improvements above, the RCMP took steps in March 2020 to develop an internal directive on the use of facial recognition activities. The directive stated that facial recognition technology will only be used in exigent circumstances for victim identification in child sexual exploitation investigations, or in circumstances where threat to life or grievous bodily harm may be imminent.
Use was limited to the prevention of, or removal from harm of Canadians, and required authorization from senior levels of RCMP management. The RCMP’s use of Clearview AI was primarily centered around its National Child Exploitation Crime Centre (NCECC) for use only by trained victim identification specialists.
There appears to be a discrepancy between the number of searches identified by the OPC by Clearview AI, and those provided by the RCMP, which arises from how each party tracked information. Clearview AI tracked individual searches (i.e., how many times something was searched against their database), while the RCMP tracked investigative files for which searches were conducted.
During the course of an investigation of child sexual exploitation on the internet, many victims that the NCECC was working to identify had multiple images “searched”. Clearview AI was also used on a test basis by a limited number of other units in the RCMP to determine its utility to enhance criminal investigations, and to demonstrate the application to RCMP stakeholders.
The RCMP continues to agree that further engagement is needed pertaining to, not just facial recognition, but all biometric analysis that could be used to support criminal investigations. Technologies will continue to evolve rapidly, and with the prevalence of digital media, automated searching and comparison tools are likely to become increasingly useful and available to law enforcement agencies.
The RCMP will continue to strive for improvement in its ability to identify and use new technologies to support our mandate of protecting and policing our communities.
February 27, 2020
Ottawa, Ontario – There has been a lot of attention and debate recently around the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement in Canada. While the RCMP generally does not disclose specific tools and technologies used in the course of its investigations, in the interest of transparency, we can confirm that we recently started to use and explore Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology in a limited capacity.
The NCECC has two licenses for the Clearview AI application and has used it in 15 cases, resulting in the successful identification and rescue of two children.
Only trained victim identification specialists in the NCECC use the software primarily to help identify, locate and rescue children who have been or are victims of online sexual abuse.
We are also aware of limited use of Clearview AI on a trial basis by a few units in the RCMP to determine its utility to enhance criminal investigations.
The RCMP will be engaging with the Privacy Commissioner to work in partnership with him to develop guidelines and policies that conform to legislation and regulations.
The Internet has changed the way child sexual exploitation offences are committed, investigated and prosecuted and Clearview AI is only one of many tools/techniques that are used in the identification of victims of online child sexual abuse.
Sexual offences committed against children are among the most deplorable of all crimes and often causes long term negative impacts for its young victims. The NCECC was created in response to this growing and disturbing crime. A key part of its mandate is victim identification.
Rates of online child sexual exploitation continue to increase every year. In 2019, the NCECC received 102,967 reports of online child sexual abuse, a dramatic 1106% increase since 2014. This was a 68% increase from last year.
While we recognize that privacy is paramount and a reasonable expectation for Canadians, this must be balanced with the ability of law enforcement to conduct investigations and protect the safety and security of Canadians, including our most vulnerable.
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