Hamilton police have tried controversial facial recognition app Clearview AI, says deputy chief

Hamilton police say a controversial facial recognition app – Clearview AI – has been examined by the force. Global News

Editor’s Note: Niagara Regional Police originally told Global News they had not been offered a trial of Clearview AI. On Saturday Feb. 22, 2020, the service reached out to Global News and corrected their earlier statement saying they, in fact, have tested the app. The service says it has since ceased using the technology amid concerns over privacy.

A revolutionary technology that boasts it has the ability “to help solve the hardest crimes” is in the hands of the Hamilton Police Service.

Deputy Chief of Police Frank Bergen says the force is not using Clearview AI nor do they have the intention of using it in the near future, but he says the service will continue to explore any technology that helps with investigations.

U.S. based Clearview AI — which says it has licensed facial recognition tech to hundreds of law enforcement agencies — has come under fire from politicians and privacy watchdogs across North America who claim it could end anonymity for the public, according to a recent  New York Times article.

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Bergen told Global News that he’s aware of the issues surrounding Clearview AI, but wants to assure the public that Hamilton police do not have a plan for the tool.


“Certainly the topic of Clearview Artificial Intelligence has gotten a lot of attention and we understand that,” said Bergen

“We want to assure the public at large that we have not and nor do we have any intention this time to be using this software or this app.”

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Hamilton police say they obtained a keycode for the technology from Clearview’s general marketing booth during a policing conference in the fall of 2019.

Bergen says the app simply uses facial recognition to find matches for pictures of unknown people by scanning social media posts.

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“It’s a tool that you would, from a policing perspective, try to say, ‘hey, how could I throw a face in there just to see whether or not I get a hit?'”

An unspecified number of officers did use the technology, according to the deputy chief, with the intent of “looking at emerging technology and leveraging those opportunities.”

But Bergen insists the officers did nothing wrong.

“No, they have not breached policy. This is a stand-alone access key code that was not attached to our actual operating system.”

Global News reached out to four other police services near the Hamilton area and asked if they have used Clearview AI.

Click to play video: 'Toronto police use of Clearview AI raises privacy concerns'
Toronto police use of Clearview AI raises privacy concerns

Both Toronto Police Service (TPS) and Halton Regional Police (HRPS) revealed they did begin trials of the app in October of 2019.

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TPS spokesperson Meaghan Gray says some members of the service did test the technology until February of 2020.

In a statement, Toronto police said they stopped using Clearview AI when Chief Mark Saunders became aware of its use.

“We have requested the Information and Privacy Commissioner and the Crown Attorneys Office work with us to review the technology and its appropriateness as an investigative tool for our purposes given that it is also used by other law enforcement agencies in North America,” TPS said in a statement on Feb. 13, 2020.

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

Gray went on to say that a comprehensive review of past use is also underway.

Const. Ryan Anderson also confirmed Halton Regional Police began a free trial and have since stopped using the application.

“The free trial concluded and an internal evaluation of the application is underway,” said Anderson,

“Pending the review by the Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner and the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Halton Regional Police Service is not moving forward with any decisions regarding future use of the application.”

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Niagara Regional Police (NRPS) Spokesperson Stephanie Sabourin says the service was also offered a free trial and did utilize it in a “limited capacity”

“This software was offered as a free trial, and our members researched its capabilities and limitations,” said Sabourin, “Through due diligence, once concerns surfaced over the lawfulness of its use, all trial usages were suspended immediately and is not currently in use by members of the NRPS.”

Brantford Police Service did not respond to Global News’ inquiries about Clearview AI.

 Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner says he first learned about a police force using the app when Toronto police contacted his office in early February.

“We were not aware that the Toronto Police Service was using Clearview AI technology until contacted by them on February 5. We are relieved that its use has been halted,” Brian Beamish said in a statement to Global News.

“There are vital privacy issues at stake with the use of any facial recognition technology. We continue to strongly encourage organizations to contact us if they are considering using new technologies that could pose a potential privacy risk to citizens.

“The use of this technology is of great concern.”

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Meanwhile, Canada’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) and authorities from three provinces have launched a joint investigation into Clearview AI.

“The investigation was initiated in the wake of numerous media reports that have raised questions and concerns about whether the company is collecting and using personal information without consent,” the OPC said in a statement.

“The four privacy regulators will examine whether the organization’s practices are in compliance with Canadian privacy legislation.”

Clearview AI’s response to the OPC’s investigation came from the company’s lawyer, Tor Ekeland.

“Clearview only accesses publicly available data from the public internet.  It is strictly an after-the-fact investigative tool for law enforcement, and is used to solve crimes including murder, rape and child exploitation,”  Ekeland told Global News.

“We’ve received the letter and look forward to a productive dialogue with Canadian officials.”

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