Facial Recognition

Date: June 12, 2020

Classification: Unclassified

Branch/Agency: RCMP

Issue:  Ongoing media coverage of the RCMP’s use of the Clearview AI facial recognition software.

Proposed Response:


On June 10, 2020, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) published an article that discusses the privacy practices of Clearview AI. Specifically, the article notes that it is unclear as to whether Canadians are able to request deletion of their images from the Clearview AI database.

Clearview AI provides access to a repository of images and any associated metadata that has been collected from publically available websites to facilitate image comparison. Privacy concerns have centered around the legality of law enforcement’s use of biometric technologies, including facial recognition, particularly around how the information is collected, used, disclosed, and retained. As a result, on February 21, 2020, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC), announced an investigation, with its counterparts in Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta, into whether Clearview AI and its use of facial recognition technology complies with Canadian privacy legislation.

Police in criminal investigations have used traditional facial recognition tools, such as photos of charged persons, for decades. However, technological advances in areas such as biometrics, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) have led to the development of more advanced and sophisticated automated facial recognition technology, which can dramatically reduce the amount of time that investigators spend reviewing potential matches.

Automated facial recognition tools are capable of identifying or verifying an individual by comparing and analyzing patterns, shapes and proportions of their facial features and contours. This is a relatively new technology and has been used by some law enforcement agencies.

Recently, a number of media outlets have reported on the use of facial recognition software, specifically Clearview AI, by Canadian law enforcement agencies to identify victims of crime or individuals involved in criminal activity.

On February 27, 2020, the RCMP acknowledged in a public statement that it had recently started to use and explore Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology in a limited capacity, in particular by the National Child Exploitation Crime Centre (NCECC). This public statement contradicted a previous media response, which was an error on the part of the RCMP. This error was corrected in the February 27, 2020 statement, wherein the RCMP acknowledged its use of Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology.

The RCMP’s NCECC has two paid licenses for the Clearview AI application and been using the technology since October 24, 2019. NCECC use has been limited to victim identification for investigations of online child sexual exploitation. To date, this technology has been used in 15 online child sexual exploitation cases, resulting in the successful identification and rescue of two children.

In the February statement, the RCMP also acknowledged that it was aware that some additional units had, on a trial basis, sought to determine whether this technology could enhance criminal investigations. The RCMP has since issued internal direction that this technology only be used in exigent circumstances for victim identification in child sexual exploitation investigations or in circumstances where threat to life or grievous bodily harm may be imminent.

On February 28, 2020, the OPC announced that it would investigate the RCMP’s use of Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology. Since that time, the RCMP has been engaged by the OPC and is actively supporting its ongoing investigation into the RCMP’s use of Clearview AI. As part of this investigation, the RCMP has committed to working with the OPC to develop guidelines and policies on the future use of automated facial recognition technologies.


Prepared by: Kees Bradley, Manager, Cybercrime and Information Sharing Policy, 613-843-5877

Approved by: Stephen White, Deputy Commissioner, Specialized Policing Services, 613-843-4631

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