Toronto Police Have Been Secretly Using Facial Recognition Software for Surveillance

CCTV Camera or surveillance operating with monitor in background

The Toronto Police’s use of facial recognition software poses a significant threat to our civil liberty rights.

The police have had access to facial recognition software since last March after they purchased the technology for approximately $452,000.

The facial recognition software works by comparing screenshots against the Toronto Police Service’s mugshot database to find a positive match. To date, the software has been used to identify missing persons and the potential suspects of shootings, homicides and sexual assault.

The Toronto Police claim that their use of facial recognition software is supported by both criminal law and the Charter. But the implementation of this software has provoked significant criticism.

Michael Bryant, Executive Director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, says that this new technological practice is “illegal, dangerously inaccurate, and unregulated.”

Bryant says that the software is illegal because it is a “mass, indiscriminate, disproportionate, unnecessary, warrantless search of innocent people without reasonable and probable cause.” Facial recognition software invades countless Ontarians’ privacy as it transforms each of us into “walking ID cards.”

On top of this, facial recognition software is alarmingly inaccurate. In a study partially completed by a University of Toronto researcher earlier this year, the accuracy of Amazon’s facial recognition software steadily decreased as the subject’s skin shade became darker.  This could lead to the miss-identification of racialized suspects and in turn proliferate the racial-bias that many minorities experience when interacting with the police.

Bryant takes particular concern with the fact that the software was deployed without any notice to the public and without any government or Court authorization. Facial recognition surveillance is therefore unregulated without any “independent oversight or standards in place.”

Please check here for a list of the CCLA’s recommendations to rectify this issue.

This blog post was written by a CCLA summer law volunteer. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA.