Face recognition tech at centre of hack was used by Edmonton police but no data lost: EPS
EDMONTON -- Controversial facial recognition technology that was hacked this week and is being investigated by several Canadian privacy commissioners was used by Edmonton police officers, the city force has revealed.
Three special unit investigators signed up for Clearview AI in December 2019 and used it during an auto theft investigation the following month, according to Edmonton Police Service's lead of the information technology division.
"One actual real-world situation. The other one was they just logged on, accessed it to see what it did," Supt. Warren Driechel told media on Friday.
"I can say no personal or private data was uploaded into the system."
EPS learned of the software's use on Thursday, a week after telling the public it was only "exploring" use of similar technologies.
Alberta's information and privacy commissioner has launched an investigation into whether EPS is complying with public sector privacy laws after it was "previously not forthcoming about its use of Clearview AI's facial recognition technology."
Commissioner Jill Clayton wrote, "This situation serves as a wake-up call to law enforcement in Alberta that building trust is critical to advancing the use of new technologies for data-driven policing. I will be writing to municipal police forces in Alberta about their potential relationships with Clearview AI.”
Edmonton officers have since been directed not to use the unapproved technology, though a former three-term Ontario privacy commissioner questioned EPS' ability to assure citizens.
"How can these guys say, 'Well, no privacy was affected,'" Ann Cavoukian asked.
"How do they know? They don't know. This is a judgement call. They are not the ones who should be making that call."
ENTIRE CLEARVIEW AI CUSTOMER LIST STOLEN
Someone "gained unauthorized access" to Clearview AI's entire customer list without accessing its servers, the company told Daily Beast on Feb. 26.
Edmonton's police force is launching a review into how the senior officers used the technology, which they had learned of at policing conferences.
However, Cavoukian wondered how the city force's policies didn't require more oversight.
"Wouldn't you check these things with someone higher up on such a sensitive issue as facial images?" she asked.
"It's unthinkable to me that they could just use it without any OK from the chief or something higher up."
While there are guidelines investigators must follow, Driechel said the officers were able to use Clearview AI without EPS as a force becoming a client.
"That's one of the things we've recognized with this kind of web application is that members can go there, they can sign up, they can register for the use of the tool, and there's very little organizational oversight of how that occurs," he commented, adding EPS has found itself in a similar situation to other police departments across Canada who've learned members had adopted the technology.
- READ MORE: Company behind controversial facial recognition software used by Toronto police suffers data breach
There also had been no order to EPS officers to not use the software when it entered the public spotlight earlier in the year.
"What we have is some investigators that used an application that was presented to them at different conferences, that's being used by other agencies and being marketed as a lawn enforcement tool," Driechel said.
"Let's face it: How long has Clearview been on the radar for the media? Several months now. But prior to that, it was not. So at what point does it suddenly become that thing we have to identify for our members?"
He said EPS would be also be examining the process officers can implement tools of their own accord.
Alberta's privacy commissioner is expected to comment on the breach Friday as well.
EPS WAS 'EXPLORING' FACE RECOGNITION TECH WHEN OFFICERS SIGNED UP
A week earlier, EPS said Clearview AI products were not being used by its members, but that it was looking into how to implement facial recognition software while abiding privacy laws.
Clearview AI scrapes photos from online platforms, and was estimated in a New York Times report in January to have collected some three billion images. A Canadian police official called it the "biggest breakthrough in the last decade" for identifying young victims of sexual abuse.
However, the company has since been the subject of scrutiny, receiving cease-and-desist letters from several social media giants, including Twitter and Google.
Earlier this month, Toronto's police chief learned some of his officers had been using Clearview AI for months. RCMP recently admitted to using the technology as well. The company is currently being investigated by the federal, Alberta, B.C., and Quebec privacy commissioners.
EPS previously defended its own plans to use the technology, saying it planned to use it to identify criminal suspects.
With files from CTVNews.ca
An earlier version of this story said EPS had been discussing with Clearview AI how to use its products in Edmonton. The article has been edited to acknowledge EPS had been discussing how to use facial recognition software.