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OPP confirms past use of controversial Clearview AI technology

OPP file photo.
OPP file photo. Don Mitchell / Global News

Ontario Provincial Police have confirmed use of the controversial facial recognition software known as Clearview AI.

The police force says some officers with units investigating child sexual exploitation, human trafficking, cyber crime as well as the digital forensics division, had accessed “a free online trial version” of the application since December but were later told to discontinue using it.

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READ MORE: Halifax police confirm use of controversial Clearview AI facial recognition technology

The technology was mostly used to identify victims, the OPP said in a statement on Sunday.

In one case, “following further investigation, a suspect was identified and charged with child pornography-related offences.”

“Other testing of the tool was limited to members entering their own images to assess the viability of the software.”

The OPP is one of several law enforcement agencies that recently revealed use of the technology. The RCMP, along with police in Toronto, Halifax, Hamilton and Edmonton, have said that officers have used or tested the software.

Click to play video 'Toronto police use of Clearview AI raises privacy concerns' Toronto police use of Clearview AI raises privacy concerns
Toronto police use of Clearview AI raises privacy concerns – Feb 14, 2020

Clearview AI has come under fire over privacy concerns. The technology allows for the collection of billions of images from public websites and social media sites that can help police forces and financial institutions identify individuals.

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A New York Times investigation earlier this year revealed the software had scraped more than three billion photos from Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to create a database used by more than 600 law enforcement agencies in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere.

READ MORE: Canadian privacy watchdogs to probe Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology

The federal privacy commissioner, along with his counterparts in B.C., Alberta and Quebec, is launching an investigation of the software’s use in Canada.

The OPP says it learned the officers were using the software as a result of an internal review that was launched following a media inquiry. At the time, the police force acknowledged using facial recognition software but did not confirm officers had accessed Clearview AI.

READ MORE: RCMP used Clearview AI facial recognition tool in 15 child exploitation cases, helped rescue 2 kids

Officers availed of the online trial after attending a conference, according to the OPP. The testing did not occur as part of the force’s usual evaluation process.

“Upon learning that some members had commenced testing of the tool through a free trial, the OPP ordered immediate cessation of testing and use of Clearview AI,” the police force said.

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Last week, Clearview AI confirmed to media outlets that an unauthorized third party gained access to its list of clients.

Click to play video '3 Edmonton police officers accessed Clearview AI' 3 Edmonton police officers accessed Clearview AI
3 Edmonton police officers accessed Clearview AI – Feb 28, 2020

The OPP said there is “no compromise or risk to the OPP network or infrastructure” as a result of the breach but said it would notify the Ontario privacy commissioner.

The police force also said it would disclose use of the software and any other facial recognition technology to the commissioner’s office.

“The use of technology to identify sexually exploited children and human trafficking victims is essential in our fight of these horrible crimes,” the OPP said.

“The OPP uses investigative tools and techniques in full compliance with the laws of Canada, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and where necessary, appropriate judicial processes.”

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–With files from Andrew Russell, Global News and The Canadian Press