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Facial recognition technology gains popularity with police, intensifying calls for regulation

Some police services in Canada are using facial recognition technology to help solve crimes, while other police forces say human rights and privacy concerns are holding them back from employing the powerful digital tools.

It's this uneven application of the technology — and the loose rules governing its use — that has legal and AI experts calling on the federal government to set national standards.

«Until there's a better handle on the risks involved with the use of this technology, there ought to be a moratorium or a range of prohibitions on how and where it can be used,» says Kristen Thomasen, law professor at the University of British Columbia.

As well, the patchwork of regulations on emerging biometric technologies has created situations in which some citizens' privacy rights are more protected than others.

«I think the fact that we have different police forces taking different steps raises concerns [about] inequities and how people are treated across the country, but [it] also highlights the continuing importance of some kind of federal action to be taken,» she said.

Facial recognition systems are a form of biometric technology that use AI to identify people by comparing images or video of their faces — often captured by security cameras — with existing images of them in databases. The technology has been a controversial tool in police hands.

In 2021, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada found that RCMP violated privacy laws when they used the technology without the public's knowledge. That same year Toronto police admitted some of its officers used facial recognition software without informing their chief. In both cases the technology was supplied by U.S. company Clearview AI, whose database was composed of

Read more on cbc.ca