CCLA welcomes today’s decisions issued by the BC Information and Privacy Commissioner, the Alberta Information and Privacy Commissioner, and the Quebec Commission d’accès à l’information which each includes binding orders to Clearview AI to cease collecting personal information in those provinces, and to delete all personal information already collected without consent.
It has been known since February 2021 that Clearview AI broke Canadian laws when it scraped the internet for 3 billion photos of people, including possibly millions of Canadian adults and children, created biometric identifiers from those photos, and sold their facial recognition tool to police forces across Canada. It was mass surveillance. It was illegal. Our federal Privacy Commissioner, and the Commissioners in Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia made this finding after a rigorous joint investigation.
But under Canada’s outdated federal private sector privacy law, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, or PIPEDA, those findings and recommendations were non-binding.
Clearview AI left the Canadian market, but the problem created by their business model remains. The company whose product was declared illegal under Canadian law still holds, and uses, potentially millions of photos of people from Canada in their facial recognition product, which they continue to sell to policing bodies around the world. The company rejected the recommendation to delete existing images of Canadians, and to stop collecting or using images of people in Canada. This leaves potentially all Canadian residents who have ever posted photos online on a wide range of popular online platforms in a perpetual police line-up.
British Columbia’s, Alberta’s, and Quebec’s privacy laws give their Commissioners different legal powers. Those offices continued the investigation and today have made orders under the BC Personal Information Protection Act, the Alberta Personal Information Protection Act, and the Quebec Loi sur la protection des renseignements personnels dans le secteur privé requiring Clearview AI to cease non-consensual collecting, using, or disclosing images or biometric facial arrays from people in those three provinces, and to delete the images and biometric facial arrays in their possession belonging to residents in those provinces.
CCLA welcomes this proactive initiative to defend the rights of all those in these three provincial jurisdictions whose images were illicitly, non-consensually scooped up by Clearview AI. We are profoundly concerned that the inconsistencies in privacy laws mean that millions of other people in other Canadian jurisdictions whose privacy rights are supposed to be protected under PIPEDA remain unprotected by this order. Not only does facial recognition facilitate a form of mass surveillance that is profoundly dangerous to human rights in our democracy, but it is a fundamentally flawed technology, one that facilitates racist discrimination given the known inaccuracy on faces that are Black, Brown, Indigenous, female, young, that is, not male and white. Every person in Canada deserves protection from a company whose business model has been declared illegal in our country, regardless of the province they live in.
CCLA reiterates our call for a national moratorium on facial recognition software until all of Canada has had a chance, as a nation, to discuss, debate, and dispute first if, then, only if we get past that question, when and how, this technology should be used in a rights-respecting democracy. We further reiterate our call for the urgent reform of our federal private sector privacy law, to provide the fair and equal protection across Canada that people deserve coast to coast.
About the Canadian Civil Liberties Association
The CCLA is an independent, non-profit organization with supporters from across the country. Founded in 1964, the CCLA is a national human rights organization committed to defending the rights, dignity, safety, and freedoms of all people in Canada.
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