RCMP actively seeking facial and tattoo recognition system without approval

August 9, 2016 - 

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has been actively seeking to obtain a new nationwide Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) that could analyze and capture faces, fingerprints, palm prints, tattoos, scars, and irises—all without being approved by the country’s federal privacy watchdog, or a plan in place to implement it, according to a report by Motherboard.

Unlike the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s AFIS, the RCMP’ current national fingerprint database does not allow officers to scan and search people’s faces or other body parts.

An internal presentation from November 24, 2015 states that the RCMP had “no authority” to add these new capabilities for its nationwide AFIS.

Despite this, the Canadian police force wanted to improve “interoperability with international partner systems” — that is, to make sure their system were consistent with law enforcement systems in other countries.

The internal presentation also highlighted the RCMP’s recent bid to “create procurement options for new requirements,” such as facial recognition. The RCMP said in March that it was looking for a system that would allow the force “to implement facial recognition as an option.”

“The suspect photos will typically be from surveillance videos, Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV), handheld cameras including cell phones, or other non-controlled, poor-quality sources. In many cases, only partial facial images will be showing,” a procurement document from last year states. “The [facial recognition capability] will be required to perform a one to one (1:1), and a one to many (1:N) digital facial comparisons.”

The AFIS should also have the ability to analyze tattoos and body marks, and that while facial recognition is not mandatory, the vendor must still demonstrate that it can provide the capability, according to the documents.

In a response to a vendor’s question, the RCMP said that the scope of the required biometrics, photos of scars, body marks, and tattoos will be “captured at a later date.”

“There is currently no RCMP policy with regards to the use and retention of facial recognition images,” said RCMP spokesperson Annie Delisle. “In the event a new service requirement is identified in the future, consultation with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada would first be initiated.”

OPC spokesperson Tobi Cohen said in an email to Motherboard that the agency has not yet received any privacy impact assessments from the RCMP regarding the use of facial recognition technology.

Cohen also added that if the force were to use facial recognition technology in any capacity, the OPC would “expect to receive a [privacy impact assessment] on the program.”

The RCMP had planned to award a contract by the end of June 2016, but so far no contract has been awarded, according to the internal presentation.

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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.