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Edmonton police use facial recognition technology

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Warren Driechel, head of the Edmonton Police’s information technology division, said the technology is used in two specific settings.

First to facilitate the identification of people involved in criminal investigations and to help positively identify people in police custody who may provide false information about their identityexplains Warren Driechel, head of the information technology division of the Edmonton police.

Edmonton police use the software NeoFace Revealcreated by the Texas-based company NEC Corporation of America.

According to the Edmonton Police, this software will not be used for surveillance or monitoring. Facial recognition technology not actively working on live video streams or social media, says Warren Driechel. The latter adds that it can however be used on a surveillance video taken at the time of criminal acts.

With this announcement, the Edmonton police are following in the footsteps of the Calgary police. In 2014, the latter was the first in Canada to announce the use of facial recognition. Edmonton police added that they shared a database with Calgary police.

An evaluation in progress

Edmonton police say they submitted many months ago a privacy impact assessment to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta. She is still awaiting an answer.

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Tuesday, the press conference began with a speech trivializing this technology. Edmonton Police Information Technology Division chief Warren Driechel said it was comparable to fingerprint scanning.

Facial recognition has been around longer than we think, and it’s applied in many different ways in today’s world. Most of us use it every day on our phones to log into different apps without really thinking about it. Hundreds of law enforcement agencies around the world also use facial recognition to speed up their investigations. »

A quote from Warren Driechel, Manager, Information Technology Division, Edmonton Police.

Experts worried

This announcement, like this speech, does not reassure some experts. Yuan Stevens, a researcher at the Center for Law, Technology and Society at the University of Ottawa, says it’s unclear whether the use of facial recognition by public safety actors to prevent crime or for investigations may be warranted. And certainly not without explicit legal authority and judicial authorization.adds Yuan Stevens.

The researcher is still satisfied that the Edmonton Police have submitted a request for an evaluation to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta.

According to her, all policies in Canada should demonstrate transparency even if they are not subject to it. She also pleads for this assessment to be made public, because the public must know the risks of this technology.

Yuan Stevens insists that research has shown that this technology amplifies systemic discrimination. It is widely known that facial recognition systems are systematically biased against people of color. Racialized people are more likely to be arrested and charged with crimes in Canada than white people.

Sébastien Gambs, professor of computer science at UQAM and holder of Canada’s research in analysis respectful of privacy and big data, is concerned about the trivialization of surveillance technologies. With the pandemic, there have been a lot of surveillance tools and technology that wouldn’t have happened in normal times, that have been put in place and are starting to be commoditized. The big issue is whether these tools will remain after the pandemic.

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