RCMP admits to using Clearview AI, says controversial facial recognition tool has solved child exploitation cases

The Mounties say they have been using controversial facial recognition tool Clearview AI for the last four months, and have used it to solve online child exploitation cases.

“The RCMP’s National Child Exploitation Crime Centre (NCECC) has been using and evaluating Clearview AI’s software for approximately four months for online child sexual exploitation investigations,” the force said in a statement released Thursday.

“The NCECC has two licenses for the Clearview AI application and has used it in 15 cases, resulting in the successful identification and rescue of two children.”

The national police force also said that “a few units” have been using Clearview AI on a trial basis “to determine its utility to enhance criminal investigations.”

The RCMP had previously refused to confirm whether it used Clearview AI. It said it was releasing the information Thursday “in the interest of transparency.”

Four regulators, including Canada’s privacy commissioner, recently opened an investigation into Clearview AI to determine whether it violates Canadian privacy laws. The tool identifies people by searching what the company describes as a database of billions of images scraped from the open web, including social media.

Tor Ekeland, Clearview AI’s lawyer, previously said that the company looks forward “to a productive dialogue with Canadian officials.”

“Clearview only accesses publicly available data from the public internet. It is strictly an after-the-fact investigative tool for law enforcement, and is used to solve crimes including murder, rape and child exploitation.”

The Mounties said they “will be engaging with the Privacy Commissioner to work in partnership with him to develop guidelines and policies that conform to legislation and regulations.”

The force says it tests new technology in its attempts to counter the “growing and disturbing” threat of online child exploitation. In 2019, the NCECC saw a 68 per cent increase in reports of online child sexual abuse over the previous year.

“While we recognize that privacy is paramount and a reasonable expectation for Canadians, this must be balanced with the ability of law enforcement to conduct investigations and protect the safety and security of Canadians, including our most vulnerable.”

Four GTA police forces previously confirmed to the Star that they have used the tool. All have since stopped using the tool pending review by Ontario’s privacy commissioner, Brian Beamish.

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Kate Allen

Kate Allen is a Toronto-based reporter covering science and technology. Follow her on Twitter: @katecallen

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