The leading privacy watchdog in British Colombia has given its blessing for police officials to use facial recognition software to track down looters and rioters from Vancouver’s Stanley Cup riot. However, officials will have to get a court order before they use the software.
Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said B.C. law allows ICBC, the insurance firm that owns the facial recognition software, to disclose some amount of personal information, if used for legitimate investigation purposes.
“I think privacy commissioners and oversight bodies are uncomfortable whenever personal information gathered for one purpose is used for a different purpose, but the law allows law enforcement to obtain information for legitimate (police) purposes,” Denham was quoted saying in the Vancouver Metro newspaper. “That’s what the law says, and it’s my job to uphold the law.”
An ICBC spokesman said police won’t have direct access to the facial recognition system. Instead, officers will provide the images, and ICBC will match them within a database.
Not surprisingly, privacy advocates are up in arms about the decision. And they may have a point. How will police determine whom to arrest? If they identify someone at the scene of a car fire, for example, who will they know whether they are the person who started the fire or simply an interested bystander?