Facial recognition company Clearview AI probed by Canada privacy agencies

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past a poster simulating facial recognition software at the Security China 2018 exhibition on public safety and security in Beijing, China October 24, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian privacy authorities have launched an investigation into New York-based Clearview AI to determine whether the firm’s use of facial recognition technology complies with the country’s privacy laws, the agencies said on Friday.

Clearview AI bills itself as a tool for law enforcement, scraping the internet for publicly available photos and using facial recognition to identify potential suspects. Critics in both Canada and the United States have raised concerns about the lack of consent of those searched, and the potential for misuse of the service.

Several police forces in Ontario have publicly acknowledged they have used Clearview’s services, including the police force in Toronto, Canada’s most populous city.

The privacy commissioners of Canada and of the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Québec will jointly investigate whether the company’s practices are in compliance with Canadian privacy legislation.

The investigation was initiated as a result of media reports that “raised questions and concerns about whether the company is collecting and using personal information without consent,” said a joint statement from the commissioners’ offices.

Clearview AI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It added that Clearview AI has said it was also providing services to financial institutions.

Privacy regulators in every province and territory have also agreed to work collaboratively “to develop guidance for organizations – including law enforcement – on the use of biometric technology, including facial recognition,” the statement said.

No further details were provided, citing the active nature of the investigation.

Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by David Gregorio