Officers used Clearview AI facial recognition technology, Edmonton Police Service admits

The Edmonton Police Service said Friday it has launched an internal investigation into the use of unapproved Clearview AI facial recognition technology by three “fairly senior” officers.

After the admission, Alberta’s information and privacy commissioner said her office is now investigating whether the EPS is complying with Alberta’s public sector privacy law.

“As evidenced by today’s announcement, [EPS] was previously not forthcoming about its use of Clearview AI’s facial recognition technology,” Jill Clayton said in a written statement.

“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.”

Clearview AI can turn up search results, including a person’s name and other information such as their phone number, address or occupation, based on nothing more than a photo. It is not available for public use.

EPS is the latest Canadian police force to acknowledge that members have used Clearview AI technology. The RCMP and forces in Toronto and Hamilton have all made similar admissions this month.

Last week, EPS said it had never used technology from the controversial U.S. company.

But after a data breach this week affected Clearview AI’s client list, EPS discovered that three officers in a specialized investigation unit had signed up for it last December, Supt. Warren Driechel, head of the EPS information technology division, told reporters Friday.

Driechel said the officers learned about the technology at a conference. It was used once, in “a limited capacity” in an auto-theft investigation in January, he said. Police believe nobody’s privacy was compromised, Driechel said.

Supt. Warren Driechel, head of the EPS information technology division, told reporters Friday that three EPS officers signed up for the unapproved Clearview AI facial recognition technology. (Andreane Williams/CBC)

Driechel said EPS doesn’t know for certain if any other members have used the unapproved technology. “We’re hoping this is it, and we’re going to get in front of it. But could there be others come forward? There may.”

Chief Dale McFee has directed EPS members to cease any further use of the technology, Driechel said.

He said McFee ordered the review of policies that guide the use of facial recognition technologies and how it was used.

“We don’t want to just assume that what [the officers] did was wrong, or that their conduct was wrong,” Driechel said.

“There may be value in this type of technology, but by using it without us having us gone through the proper assessment steps, we open ourselves to a lot of risk.”

Last week, Clayton announced an investigation into Clearview AI’s compliance with Alberta’s private-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,” Clayton said in her statement.

“I will be writing to municipal police forces in Alberta about their potential relationships with Clearview AI.”

Meanwhile, Driechel said EPS is still working to secure a deal with a vendor of facial recognition technology.

“The EPS is in the process of assessing and engaging a facial-recognition solution with a well-recognized vendor, while also ensuring the use of this technology abides by appropriate privacy laws and investigative procedures,” he said.

“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.”

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