A review is being done after three Edmonton Police Service officers used a new cutting edge facial recognition software before the technology has been approved by the department.
The technology, made by U.S. company Clearview AI, gathers huge numbers of images from various sources that can help police forces and financial institutions identify people.
“From what we know to date, the Clearview AI technology was only applied to one auto theft investigation in a limited capacity,” said Supt. Warren Driechel, with the EPS’ Informatics Division.
While Edmonton police are exploring the use of this type of technology, EPS hasn’t assessed or approved Clearview AI.
According to police, the officers were attending a conference in eastern Canada in 2019 when they were introduced to it.
“Prior to today’s availability we, the EPS, indicated we have never used the Clearview AI technology,” Driechel said.
Once EPS heard about the Clearview AI data breach, the force looked closer at its use.
“Since the data breach of Clearview AI, EPS has learned that three investigators with one of the service’s specialized investigation units have used it. Those members learned of the technology at a conference where it was marketed as a law enforcement tool and was recommended by fellow police colleagues.
“They did sign up for it themselves and they used it. I think that’s one of the things that we’ve recognized with this kind of web application — members can go there, they can sign up, they can regurgitate for the use of the tool and there’s very little organizational oversight of how that occurs.
“I think that’s one of the relevant things we’re seeing across Canada as this starts to become unpackaged… Most law enforcement agencies that are finding their members are using it didn’t realize that they were using it,” Driechel said.
Now, an internal review has been launched to determine the officers’ use of the technology and EPS’ policies around members using these types of tools — and if it’s strict enough.
“The Clearview AI technology is not approved for use by our members,” Driechel said. “It has not been assessed or approved by our IT security and continues to pose many unanswered privacy questions. Chief Dale McPhee has since directed members of the service to cease any further use of the unapproved technology and has initiated an internal review of how the tool was used.
“We still believe that facial recognition technology can be a very valuable investigative tool for police agencies, as long as the proper safeguards, considerations and policies have been implemented.”
He said the three officers were fairly senior.
“We still have to do a better assessment of this technology,” Driechel said. “We don’t want to just assume that what they did was wrong, or that their conduct was wrong. There may be value in this type of technology, but using it without us having gone through the proper assessment steps, we open ourselves up to a lot of risk.”
On Friday, Alberta’s Information and Privacy Commissioner said the office would also be investigating.
“As evidenced by today’s announcement, Edmonton Police Service was previously not forthcoming about its use of Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology,” Jill Clayton said. “Only after a data breach affected Clearview AI’s client list did we find out that, in fact, certain Edmonton Police Service employees had used Clearview AI’s product.
“In addition to an investigation announced last week into Clearview AIs compliance with Alberta’s private sector privacy law, my office is investigating whether Edmonton Police Service is complying with Alberta’s public sector privacy law.
“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.”
Driechel said the EPS would cooperate with any reviews.
“Absolutely. If there’s an investigation, we’re going to be fully forthcoming and absolutely cooperating with the privacy commissioner.”