Technology

Facial Recognition: Ottawa seeks dismissal in class action lawsuit

The class action alleges that RCMP became a client of Clearview AI despite the company’s services involving “large-scale intrusion into the privacy of residents and citizens of Canada,” as well as a violation of the right to privacy,” the author writes. (Photo: Canadian Press)

Ottawa. The federal government is asking a judge to deny a Quebec photographer’s request to allow a class-action lawsuit that could involve millions of people over the RCMP’s use of a controversial facial recognition tool.

In a submission to the Federal Court, government lawyers said that Ha Vee Doan could not claim that she suffered “any harm” as a result of the National Police’s use of Clearview AI technology.

Ms. Doane’s proposed class action seeks unspecified damages against her and other Canadians whose photographs and related information were allegedly included in a huge database compiled by Clearview AI and used under license from the RCMP.

Clearview AI technology has been extensively tested as it involves collecting a large number of images from various sources to help law enforcement, financial institutions and other customers identify people from photographs.

In a February 2021 report, Federal Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien and three of his provincial colleagues said that a New York company’s extraction of billions of images of people from the Internet is a flagrant violation of Canadians’ privacy rights.

Last June, Mr Therrien determined that the RCMP violated the law by using Clearview AI software to collect personal information.

The Privacy Commissioner found that the RCMP conducted 521 searches through paid and trial accounts of Clearview users from October 2019 to July 2020.

“In the absence of any evidence that the RCMP conducted these searches and seizures under legal authority, the searches and seizures are considered unreasonable,” Doane said in the lawsuit.

Mr Therrien concluded that the RCMP accessed images of Canadians through Clearview AI as part of its work.

The Gendarmerie has publicly stated that the force uses the company’s technology only to a limited extent, primarily to identify, locate and rescue child victims of online sexual abuse.

However, an investigation by the Privacy Commissioner found that the RCMP did not provide adequate reports on the vast majority of searches it conducted.

In court documents, federal prosecutors say the use of Clearview helped the RCMP identify and locate the three child victims. Other use cases included searching for a wanted fugitive and testing an app with images of police officers, altered images of American celebrities, or media images of missing persons.

Clearview AI stopped offering its services in Canada on July 6, 2020.

The class-action lawsuit proposed by Ms. Doane says RCMP became a client of Clearview AI despite the company’s services including “large-scale invasion of the privacy of residents and citizens of Canada” as well as copyright infringement.

The statement said that Ms. Doan is passionate about photography and takes pictures of herself and others, posting a significant number of photos on her own website and online platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

She claims that her “personal biometric information” and photographs were collected, copied, reproduced, stored or used by Clearview without her knowledge or consent.

The class action lawsuit will cover residents of Canada whose images are in the Clearview AI database, as well as those who own the copyright and moral rights to those photos.

She is seeking a court order directing the RCMP to destroy all Clearview documents and information in response to database searches involving Canadian residents.

In their filing, federal prosecutors note that Ms. Doan received confirmation from Clearview that, as of July 10, 2020, the company had identified seven separate images of her online. They appear to have been sourced from his Instagram and Twitter accounts, from his business website, and from two independent sources.

“Whether Google, Facebook, Instagram, Clearview or a phone book, access to a public database or search engine does not create liability for all persons whose information is contained therein, regardless of how the information was actually accessed and the nature of that information,” the federal note said.

Ms. Doan does not claim that the RCMP actually saw, let alone copied even one of her or a photograph she took that made it into the Clearview database, government lawyers say.

“His case is based on the fact that this fact does not matter. But this is important. In the absence of any material facts indicating that the defendant searched for, viewed or copied information relating to the plaintiff, it is illusory to talk about a violation of his rights or a causal relationship, ”the federal document says.

“Indeed, the applicant did not (and could not) claim that she had suffered any harm.”

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