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Facial recognition testing for Canada’s border security


The Canada Border Services Agency science and engineering directorate has been working with the University of Quebec and other partners to trial facial recognition technology at various locations and under specific lighting and crowd movement conditions.

The border agency plans to compare images of people arriving in the country with photographs of suspects on watchlists to keep out alleged terrorists and other criminals.

Metro News reports that technical findings published by the federal border agency indicate researchers have assessed the technique’s use in settings such as an interview counter, hallway, turnstile, and waiting and baggage-claim areas and that one thread of the research looked at a system’s ability to match images of people in a video stream with photos of “persons of interest.”

Just last year, the federal government announced plans to put $313 million over five years towards expanding biometric screening measures to all foreign travelers entering Canada on a visa. According to the government’s plan, all foreign nationals, except for U.S. citizens, applying for a work or study permit, as well as those applying for temporary or permanent residency in Canada will be subject to biometric screening.

The border agency said that while it plans to test the technology in an “operational context,” no trials involving actual travellers have yet taken place.

The federal privacy watchdog warned the agency about false positives, resulting in unwarranted secondary screening for some people at the border. They also urged the border agency to assess the risks of using such technology, including issues that might arise during testing phases.

In November 2014, Calgary Police Service announced it was implementing a facial recognition solution for identifying criminals, making it the first law enforcement agency in Canada to have facial recognition technology.

Passport Canada has also been using facial recognition for a number of years to scrutinize photos and prevent people from holding multiple passports under different names.

A Canadian Senate committee report from June 2015 recommended that “The Government of Canada should fully implement a plan to collect biometric information from all foreign nationals arriving in Canada, subject to existing provisions in agreements with other governments. Further, the CBSA should use this biometric information to verify the departure of all foreign nationals, subject to privacy and security safeguards.”

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