Several privacy authorities in Canada announced they have launched an investigation into the use of the Clearview app, as reported by Reuters. The agencies, including privacy commissioners of Canada and of the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Québec, are coming together in a joint effort to investigate whether the app breaks any of Canada’s privacy laws.
The Clearview app has been the source of much contention since the public was made aware of it thanks to a report in the New York Times last month. It works by scraping large amounts of information, particularly photos, from websites like Facebook or Twitter. Then, when a subject is imaged, it searches for matching images of their face. Essentially, the app can snap a picture of someone and then show wherever their face appears on the internet.
Clearview is promoted as a tool for use by law enforcement and is reportedly currently in use by hundreds of agencies across the U.S. from local police forces to the FBI. Clearview has also announced its interest in expanding to other countries, which is why the Canadian privacy agencies have become involved.
The Canadian investigation is a direct result of recent media reports, according to a statement from the commissioners’ offices given to Reuters. The investigation began after the reports “raised questions and concerns about whether the company is collecting and using personal information without consent,” the statement read. The commissioners have agreed to work together “to develop guidance for organizations — including law enforcement — on the use of biometric technology, including facial recognition.”
The founder of Clearview, Hoan Ton-That, said that the first amendment gives his company the right to collect photos from public webpages and use them in its tool. However, legal experts don’t necessarily agree, describing Clearview as being on “shaky ground” in its claims.
Internet companies like Google, Twitter, and YouTube have also hit back against Clearview, with Google sending a cease and desist letter to the company earlier this month. In a statement, Google rejected Clearview’s claim it had a right to use public data: “YouTube’s Terms of Service explicitly forbid collecting data that can be used to identify a person,” it said. “Clearview has publicly admitted to doing exactly that, and in response we sent them a cease and desist letter.”