Toronto Pearson airport secretly tests facial recognition system on travellers

Occurred: July 2021

Government of Canada officials secretly tested a facial recognition system at Toronto's Pearson International Airport in 2016, prompting concerns about privacy and transparency.

The Globe and Mail revealed that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) had run “Faces on the Move,” a project involving the secret testing of facial recognition technology on millions of unsuspecting travellers.

Running for about six months, from July to December of 2016Ottawa-based technology company Face4 Systems, on behalf of the CBSA, monitored approximately 15,000 and 20,000 travellers per day in order to identify people the CBSA suspected might try to enter the country using fake identification.

However, the CBSA failed to inform travellers that their faces were being scanned, nor did it specify which airport was being used for the trial. Details of the trial were obtained by The Globe through a freedom of information (FOI/FOIA) request.

The finding sparked concerns about potential human rights violations and privacy breaches, with experts highlighting the need to balance national security with personal privacy.

Operator: Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA)
Developer: Face4 Systems
Country: Canada
Sector: Govt - immigration
Purpose: Identify deported travellers
Technology: Facial recognition
Issue: Privacy
Transparency: Governance; Marketing; Privacy

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