RCMP British Colombia criticised over facial recognition opacity

Occurred: April 2021

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police of British Columbia secretly subscribed to a facial recognition service that claims to help identify terrorists, prompting concerns about privacy and transparency

Signed in 2016, the deal enabled the RCMP to access a 700,000-image database created by US-based IntelCenter using facial recognition developed by Morpho. Morpho was later bought by and renamed as IDEMIA. 

The database appeared to be at least partially made up of images scraped from social media platforms, according to Kate Robertson of the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab - similar to Clearview AI, also covertly used by the RCMP.

In addition to hiding the deal from the public, emails obtained by The Tyee show the RCMP broke its own rules by not alerting senior officers of the sole-sourced contract, and that it avoided labelling the software with terms that might trigger more oversight, such as ‘facial recognition’ or ‘biometric.’ 

Privacy and civil rights experts are concerned facial recognition systems can produce false positives with particular bias against racialised individuals and can unlawfully incriminate Canadians and foreigners. It is unclear how the images are harvested, raising a range of concerns about privacy and accuracy, they say.

The RCMP in British Colombia told The Tyee it bought the software to test its feasibility. The contract came to an end in 2019. 

Operator: Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)
Developer: IntelCenter; IDEMIA/Morpho

Country: Canada

Sector: Govt - police

Purpose: Strengthen law enforcement

Technology: Facial recognition
Issue: Accuracy/reliability; Bias/discrimination - race, ethnicity; Ethics; Privacy

Transparency: Governance; Marketing

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Type: Incident
Published: January 2023
Last updated: August 2023