Toronto police chief orders officers to stop using controversial Clearview AI technology

Elias Hubbard
February 17, 2020

Up until earlier this month, Toronto Police had been using a controversial online facial recognition technology.

Toronto Police Service spokesperson Meaghan Gray said Saunders was unaware that officers were using Clearview AI, an artificial intelligence platform, and as soon as he found out, he ordered officers to stop using the software immediately. It's unclear if police purchased the technology - if so, it was never disclosed publicly - or were allowed to demo the app.

"Until a fulsome review of the product is completed, it will not be used by the Toronto Police Service".

Brian Beamish, information and privacy commissioner of Ontario, told Global News on Thursday that his office had not been aware that the Toronto Police Service was using Clearview AI technology until it was contacted by them on February 5.

The company, which was founded in 2017 by Richard Schwartz and Hoan Ton-That, became a subject of a New York Times report last month, revealing that more than 600 law enforcement agencies, as well as a handful of companies, have been using Clearview.

"We question whether there are any circumstances where it would be acceptable to use Clearview AI", he said. It uses the TPS database of approximately 1.5 million mugshots, a small number compared to the three billion photos Clearview has amassed, to find a possible suspect from a surveillance camera or witness image. As it turned out, other areas of the service were testing Clearview AI. Noting there are "vital privacy issues at stake with the use of any facial recognition technology", Beamish said "we are relieved that its use has been halted". Stephen Harris of the forces' Forensic Identification Service, back in May.

Toronto police have now asked Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner and the Crown attorneys' office to work with the service to review whether Clearview AI is an appropriate investigative tool, she said.

"At no time was the Clearview AI technology used for livestreaming or real-time information gathering and there were no costs associated with its use", Gray said in an email Friday.

Christian Leuprecht, a policing and technology expert affiliated with Royal Military College of Canada and Queen's University, said the use of Clearview AI is part of a larger trend where "the technology evolves much faster than we have the ability to actually think about it from an accountability and review perspective". "We have made it clear in the past that my office should be consulted before this type of technology is used".

Since the report came out, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal told state prosecutors to temporarily stop using the technology company's program, and tech companies - including Google, Twitter and Facebook - have demanded that Clearview stop scraping their sites.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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