Canada’s privacy watchdogs go after U.S. facial recognition company Clearview


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Four of Canada’s privacy commissioners have launched a joint investigation into whether a U.S. company’s facial recognition technology, which scrapes facial images from the internet, violates privacy laws in Canada.

The federal privacy commissioner and commissioners in Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec said Friday they are investigating Clearview AI about whether the company is collecting and using personal information without consent.

“Media reports have stated that Clearview AI is using its technology to collect images and make facial recognition available to law enforcement for the purposes of identifying individuals,” the commissioners said in a joint statement. “The company has also claimed to be providing its services to financial institutions.”

Ontario Privacy Commissioner Brian Beamish has urged police forces in the province to “stop this practice immediately and contact my office.”

Despite this position, Beamish is sitting out the joint investigation announced Friday, pointing out that Ontario’s relatively weak laws don’t allow him to put questions to corporations.

“If Ontario had private-sector privacy legislation, I’d be happy to join in this investigation,” Mr. Beamish said. But as things stand, “we have no jurisdictional premise for joining the investigation into Clearview.”

In January, the New York Times published an article stoking privacy concerns about Clearview AI by exposing how police across North America were using the app. The company replied in a statement saying that its product has helped “solve thousands of serious crimes, including murder, sexual assault, domestic violence, and child sexual-exploitation cases.”