The Edmonton Police Service now has access to a facial recognition software called NeoFace Reveal, that it believes will help identify suspects in criminal investigations.
Supt. Warren Driechel, who’s in charge of EPS’ Information Technology Division, said the software went live at the start of 2022 in a “limited production environment,” but didn’t say exactly how many times the technology has been used.
In a news release Tuesday, EPS said the program, made by NEC Corporation of America, is used by “hundreds of law enforcement agencies across the world.”
Only a select group of trained technicians within the service will be able to access and use the technology, EPS said, and it won’t replace the investigation work done by humans.
“At a technical level, the system itself is in a closed system,” Driechel explained. “It’s not available to people outside of that closed group of users.
“We can audit the system. So anybody who accesses the system, we can see who used it.”
Police officers cannot just log on to the system, Supt. Devin Laforce, with EPS’ Research and Development Division, added; only a certain number of trained technicians can. Investigators will have to submit their requests through the technicians in order to apply the technology to their investigations, EPS said, stressing the program “was implemented in full compliance with FOIP legislation.”
The request must relate to a specific event or active criminal investigation.
Potential matches are reviewed by one of the technicians before any more steps in the investigation are taken.
“While we’ve just rolled out the solution, we have ensured the proper safeguards, policies and protections align with legislation,” Driechel said.
He said EPS submitted a privacy impact assessment to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta “several months ago” but hasn’t received the final results yet.
EPS also has its own in-house privacy council, Driechel said, which is consulted when programs with privacy elements are being considered.
In a statement to Global News, the communications manager for the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta thanked Edmonton police for submitting the assessment request for its facial recognition system.
“This technology raises several privacy considerations, and we appreciate the opportunity to review EPS’ program under Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act,” Scott Sibbald said.
EPS submitted the privacy impact assessment in October 2021, he said. The privacy commissioner reports findings publicly.
“Our review is underway. There is no timeline for completion.”
Right now, submitting a privacy impact assessment is voluntary under FOIP, Sibbald highlighted. He said his office has been pushing for that to be made mandatory, especially “as law enforcement and other public bodies consider implementing more data-driven technologies.”
Currently, he said, the Health Information Act is Alberta’s only privacy law that requires privacy impact assessments on certain projects.
“Nothing is concluded by facial recognition on its own,” Laforce said, adding it provides suggestions based on data for investigators to pursue to confirm the person is an actual suspect and linked to the crime. “There’s no power of arrest.”
He said a facial recognition match carries some legal weight but “not to the level of a fingerprint or DNA match.”
As time goes on, Laforce expects the technology to become more accurate and lead to more identifications.
The facial recognition software works with EPS’ and Calgary Police Service’s mugshot database.
It uses biometrics to help identify a suspect using points on their face, EPS said. The technique works on still images, like photos or CCTV footage, and compares it against the mugshot databases.
EPS said facial recognition technology can also help police when people who are taken into custody provide false information about their identity.
The police service stressed it is not being used to monitor or surveille. Facial recognition technology is not actively running over live video feeds or social media, Driechel said.
“It’s not being used to live stream, monitor or surveille those environments,” he added. “The architecture, the technology itself, is not linked to any of those live systems.”
It will be used to search the Calgary and Edmonton police mugshot databases of people who have been criminally charged.
“Think of it the same way as fingerprinting,” Driechel said. “It will be applied in a very specific way.”