American technology firm Clearview AI violated Canadian privacy laws by collecting photos of Canadians without their knowledge or consent, an investigation by four of Canada’s privacy commissioner has found.
The report found that Clearview’s technology created a significant risk to individuals by allowing law enforcement and companies to match photos against its database of more than three billion images, including Canadians and children.
The report rejected arguments from the company that it wasn’t subject to Canadian privacy laws and that the images in its database were publicly available.
“What Clearview does is mass surveillance and it is illegal,” federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien said in a statement. “It is completely unacceptable for millions of people who will never be implicated in any crime to find themselves continually in a police lineup.
“Yet the company continues to claim its purposes were appropriate, citing the requirement under federal privacy law that its business needs to be balanced against privacy rights.”
The report by four of Canada’s privacy commissioners comes nearly seven months after Clearview agreed to no longer make its controversial facial recognition software available in Canada. A number of Canadian law enforcement agencies, including the RCMP, Toronto and Calgary police, had been using the advanced technology to help identify perpetrators and victims of crimes.
With the technology, police could input the picture of a victim or suspected criminal and compare it with billions of photos it had collected from the internet and social media accounts.
However, privacy experts expressed concerns that the technology could be misused.
While police forces said last summer that they stopped using Clearview AI, questions remained about what would happen to the personal information of Canadians that the company had already collected and whether the company would stop collecting personal information belonging to Canadians.
In July, company CEO Hoan Ton-That said the company had ceased its operations in Canada. He said Canadians would be able to opt out of Clearview’s search results.
“We are proud of our record in assisting Canadian law enforcement to solve some of the most heinous crimes, including crimes against children,” Ton-That said in a statement at the time. “We will continue to co-operate with the (Office of the Privacy Commissioner) on other related issues.”
Lisa Linden, spokeswoman for the company, said Wednesday that the company would respond to the report after it reviewed it.