Clearview AI and RCMP In The Wrong

By Ben Hamill - February 23 2021

Clearview AI and RCMP In The Wrong

While what companies like Clearview AI do is illegal and a gross infringement on the privacy of Canadians, a pending class action lawsuit currently being considered against the RCMP highlights the fact that mass surveillance technology would not even exit without a definite demand from the Canadian police force.

That government’s response to date has focused – and quite narrowly so – on holding Clearview AI accountable for its illegal data collection practices, Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien’s condemnation of mass surveillance doesn’t go nearly far enough. His response essentially absolves agencies like the RCMP from all accountability. What actually needs to happen is for government to take action to rein in the use of mass surveillance technology by the RCMP.

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Kid Gloves Of No Use

When the Clearview AI story first broke, the Canadian police authority made several false claims about its use of the company’s technology. Then, as public pressure continued to mount, the RCMP suddenly changed its story so as to insist it does not comment on those investigative tools used in the fight against crime.

What should have acted as a stern warning to the RCMP, when in 2016 it emerged that local police had on six occasions been found guilty of having unlawfully monitored Canadians’ movements, only led to the agency being praised for having cooperated with investigators instead. And even though they were at the time ordered to follow a much more transparent approach with Canadian nationals going forward, the Clearview AI debacle is strong evidence that this has not happened.

What is also clear from the scandal is that the RCMP has not taken the advice handed down by lawmakers very seriously. As such, it has largely continued to fail in terms of its obligation to ensure that Canadians have reasonably transparent access to information about how it makes decisions about our safety and security.

The Buck Hasn’t Yet Stopped

While Clearview AI’s practices have been declared illegal, it’s only a matter of time before someone else – yet another service provider - will be making similar headlines.

Judging by history, the message is clear: as long as those in authority continue to demand the kinds of tools provided by companies such as Clearview AI, companies overstepping the privacy and public surveillance boundaries will continue to flourish in the country.

The only way to properly address the issue once and (hopefully) for all, would be for the RCMP to be held more prominently accountable for its use of advanced personal surveillance technologies such as facial recognition.

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