The use of facial recognition technology as a security tool on Parliament Hill would pose substantial legal, privacy and human rights risks — and may even be illegal, says a study prepared for the Parliamentary Security Unit.
It warns that the technology could be used to monitor, track, identify or misidentify an individual and lead to decisions that could result in them being detained, interrogated, detained or arbitrarily prevented from entering parliamentary premises.
The independent report was completed in April by Toronto Metropolitan University’s Leadership Lab at the request of the Parliamentary Protective Service, which funded the study.
Data was collected through interviews with members of the protective services as well as lawyers, scholars and individuals specializing in facial recognition.
The findings come amid heightened concerns about the safety of politicians and those who participate in public due to verbal abuse and threats directed at parliamentarians and journalists, particularly women and people of colour.
A man launched a profanity-laced verbal attack on Deputy Premier Chrystia Freeland in Alberta last Friday, drawing widespread condemnation.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino on Monday stressed the importance of working closely with the RCMP, other police forces and the sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons “to ensure that all ministers and all MPs and their staff have the protection they need.”
“We will put all options on the table.”
Threats and intimidation are increasingly, disproportionately affecting women, racialized Canadians and Indigenous peoples, “and this represents a threat not only to them and their groups, their families, but to our democracy,” added Mendicino.
“So it’s important that we have a good robust debate — that’s one of the trademarks of a healthy democracy.”
Women, Gender Equality and Youth Minister Marcy Yen, a former journalist, said intimidation was the main thing that worried her family when she decided to enter politics.
“As a black journalist, the level of threats I’ve received — about my life and my children’s lives — was not a small decision to run for office. That’s the reality, that’s the reality. The deputy prime minister was reprehensible, but not surprising.”
In response to questions, the Parliamentary Protective Service said it does not use — or intends to introduce — facial recognition technology, but added that it needs to learn more about “emerging and evolving threats and technologies” to ensure physical security in parliamentary areas. .
The technology allows an image of a person’s face to be matched with a database of photos to identify the person.
The report said it could be used restrictively, for example, comparing a banked image of an MP’s face before they were allowed on Parliament Hill. At the other end of the spectrum, the technology can be used to compare an image of a member of the public patrolling the Hill grounds with a large database of photos to try to identify them.
“The technology can be used to uniquely identify people coming to Parliament or classify them based on their identity, and once people are identified, it can be used to track their location patterns, political leanings, personal preferences and activities,” the report said. has been
Dozens of security cameras currently record activity on Parliament Hill, controlling how long images are kept. Signs posted on the hill suggest cameras to visitors.
The report also states that the use of facial recognition equipment in a parliamentary context “raises significant risks” to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association.
“Some of Canada’s most vulnerable populations go to Parliament to participate in rallies, protests and to make their voices heard on important political issues, activities that (Protective Services) play a key role in facilitating and protecting.”
The use of the technology “could create a chilling effect” that could potentially prevent many groups from organizing and visiting parliament on critical issues — particularly for communities such as blacks and indigenous peoples who have historically been victims of state surveillance, the report added.
“There are currently no clear legal limits or required safeguards regarding the collection and processing of biometric data such as facial images by automated means — a major gap in Canada’s privacy and human rights legal framework.”
Also, the report warns, if facial recognition technology is used to protect MPs, senators and Parliament Hill, there could be “scope or function creep”, expanding the tool’s use in situations that pose privacy risks.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on August 29, 2022.