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Federal Liberals probed for facial recognition use

Technology allegedly used for ID purposes in nomination races.
Facial-recognition-Yuichiro Chino-Moment-Getty Images
Alleged use of facial recognition software during Liberal Party of Canada nominations has prompted an investigation by B.C.'s privacy commissioner.

The Liberal Party of Canada’s use of facial recognition technology is under investigation by B.C.’s information and privacy commissioner.

Michael McEvoy’s office said August 6 it would be looking into the federal governing party’s use of the controversial technology for identification purposes in nomination races. 

McEvoy acknowledged the party offers individuals participating in virtual nominations in B.C. an alternative “manual ID verification” option that does not involve the use of facial recognition.

He noted the manual option for participation because the “automated ID verification” method is now under investigation.

He stressed that suggesting the option is not an expression any view on the issue, which remain to be determined.

The investigation was initiated in the wake of concerns about the party of Canada’s use of a third-party service provider for automated identification verification. 

The investigation is to determine if the Liberal Party of Canada’s use of facial recognition is compliant with BC’s Personal Information Protection Act.

Party spokesman Braedon Caley said that in nomination proceedings, voters have a choice between automated verification, similar to processes in Canada’s financial and hospitality sectors, or a manual ID verification process with a live Liberal meeting official over video.

“The Liberal nominations process is moving forward in a manner that ensures people can safely vote from their homes out of respect for public health precautions, while maintaining the integrity of our elections and protecting privacy,” Caley said. “This option helps ensure that they can safely vote from home during this global pandemic while protecting privacy and the integrity of the process.”

Caley said the party “undertakes a robust privacy review before engaging with new virtual tools, and like all of our engagement with Canadians, this process has moved forward in full accordance with the party’s strict privacy policy and the Canada Elections Act. As soon as a nomination voter is verified, associated information is deleted immediately and automatically, and not retained by the party.”

Further, he said, the federal privacy commissioner’s guidance on the use of such technology was consulted on the appropriate use of the technology.

The technology’s use has become controversial in recent years due to concerns about the information it gathers, whether appropriate consent has been obtained, how it is stored and to what uses the collected data is put.

McEvoy has repeatedly stressed vigilance in a world where governments and corporations increasingly collect and share people’s personal information.

He said in February that mass domestic surveillance by the U.S. after 9-11, Clearview AI’s collection of billions of images for facial recognition uses by police, mall operator Cadillac Fairview’s capturing shoppers’ images and Cambridge Analytica’s compiling of data later used in election campaigns are all examples of overreach.

Earlier this year, the B.C. and Yukon ombudsman and information and privacy commissioners reported that fairness and privacy issues resulting from the use of AI in commercial facial recognition systems have been shown to have bias and infringe people’s privacy rights

McEvoy has initiated other investigations into the use of facial recognition.

He and federal counterpart Daniel Therrien in 2020 announced a probe into a police-affiliated technology company’s use of facial recognition tools is being investigated for adherence to Canadian laws. That work stemmed from media reports raising questions and concerns about whether New York City-based Clearview AI is collecting and using personal information without consent.

Later in 2020, a primary finding of an investigation by federal, Alberta and B.C. privacy commissioners was that Vancouver and Richmond malls were among 12 Cadillac Fairview Corporation Limited properties across Canada that used facial recognition technology to collect customer information without their consent.


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