Facial recognition is in the news again.
First, the Alberta, British Columbia and Federal Commissioners just released their findings in the Cadillac Fairview matter. This is the story from a while ago (the OPC announced in August 2018 they were investigating) when it became known that a large mall operator was using a form of facial detection in the information kiosks mall patrons use to look at the directory and map. The Commissioners concluded the detection technology was the same as facial recognition and therefore more informed consent was required prior to any collection and use.
Second, the Global Privacy Assembly passed a resolution on this topic, co-sponsored by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. It acknowledges that facial recognition can benefit security and public safety. However, it asserts the technology can also erode data protection, privacy and human rights because it is highly intrusive and enables widespread surveillance that can produce inaccurate results. The resolution calls on data protection authorities to work together to develop principles and expectations that strengthen data protection and ensure privacy by design in the development of innovative uses of this technology.
I’m a huge proponent of our regulators providing more guidance on these types of issues. Facial recognition is perhaps not so surprisingly prevalent these days. Perhaps if they had taken up that mantle a bit earlier, the Cadillac Fairview case would never have happened.
I think we’re missing an ethical review of these technologies. It seems that maybe we are collectively starting to realize there are actually dangers with things like facial recognition. Certain tech giants have even paused or abandoned their facial recognition projects. It can be a handy way to, for example, quickly unlock your phone. But on the other hand, it can be used for massive surveillance and profiling. The kind of thing a commissioner, almost 20 years ago, suggested was the eventual risk of being too permissive about video cameras on street corners. It’s interesting to see how, over time, we become resigned to such things. I think they call that a slippery slope. The only slippery slope I want to see is one I can ski on. And who knows, with the flurries we saw earlier this week, maybe that’ll happen.
Anyways, I hope we continue to have these Global Privacy Assembly resolutions. For sure, they aren’t the most striking enforcement tool out there, but they are important in bringing into focus some of the risks we find ourselves dealing with. Now, if we can just get more concrete action in implementing these resolutions...
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