Canadian government used facial recognition to detect passport fraudsters

June 8, 2016 - 

Canada’s Federal government officials revealed they used facial recognition technology to identify 15 suspects wanted on immigration warrants, who all used false identities to apply for travel documents, according to a report by Times Colonist.

Based on this success, the Liberal government is considering permanently using the facial recognition technology to help locate and arrest individuals ineligible to stay in Canada as a result of being involved in terrorism, organized crime or human rights violations.

Federal officials began using facial recognition technology following concerns that people wanted by the Canada Border Services Agency might assume fake names to attain otherwise authentic Canadian travel documents from the Immigration Department’s passport program, according to internal memos released under the Access to Information Act.

“Genuine Canadian passports and other travel documents are of high value to persons who seek to establish false identities,” said a memorandum of understanding between the border and immigration agencies. “Individuals who have outstanding immigration arrest warrants can evade detection by law enforcement by using false identities to travel, or to live within communities while retaining access to benefits and services.”

Using these fraudulently obtained travel documents — including passport, emergency travel document, refugee travel document or certificate of identity — criminals can sneak across the border undetected, said the memorandum says.

Following a few positive initial tests, the Federal government launched a pilot project in 2014 where the border agency shared the photos and biographic data of 1,000 wanted people.

The files of these individuals were flagged as being high-risk in order to find out if they had either applied for or obtained a Canadian travel document under a false name.

When the 15 matches turned up, the border agency decided to implement “appropriate enforcement action,” said Esme Bailey, an agency spokeswoman.

A second phase of the pilot project was completed at the end of March, but the data is still being analyzed and are not yet available, Bailey said.

Once border and immigration officials have completed their analysis, they will decide on whether to introduce a permanent information-sharing arrangement, she said.

The two agencies also filled out a privacy questionnaire for the pilot phase and if the project advances, a full privacy impact assessment — designed to ensure personal information is not improperly used — will be performed.

Although the privacy commissioner’s office has not been consulted on the project, both the border agency and the passport program have shared information regarding other facial-recognition initiatives with the commissioner.

Passport officials have been using the technology for years to identify those individuals who have applied for multiple travel documents under different identities.

Additionally, the border agency has been collaborating with other agencies since at least 2011 to test the ability of devices in extracting usable facial images from video footage.

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About Justin Lee

Justin Lee has been a contributor with Biometric Update since 2014. Previously, he was a staff writer for web hosting magazine and website, theWHIR. For more than a decade, Justin has written for various publications on issues relating to technology, arts and culture, and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @BiometricJustin.