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RCMP exploring expanded biometric ID capacity


According to an article in Motherboard, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are seeking to expand its automated fingerprint identification system (AFIS) to include facial recognition capabilities.

The article states that the RCMP said in a letter of interest that would like to add capacity to its biometric database which can store and analyze surveillance and cellphone video, along with video from other non-controlled, poor-quality sources.

The letter of interest, however, does not reveal how the RCMP plans to acquire video from cellphones or other sources. While there is no implementation time specified for additional facial recognition capacity, the RCMP notes that it is expecting that the next supplier of its AFIS system must be able to support it. The article also states that the RCMP expects that incoming videos may only contain partial facial images and that proposed capacity must be able to “perform one-to-one searches (using one image to confirm the identity of one suspect), as well as one-to-many searches—fishing expeditions involving large databases of photos.”

The letter of interest states if a photo does not contain an identifiable person, then it should be stored in an “unknown photo database repository,” which the RCMP can later query. Critics however note that they are concerned about the system because such a capacity may not be in compliance with Canada’s privacy guidelines.

In 2013, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada stipulated that federal government repositories must only record and store descriptions of biometric data instead of images and that search can only be one-to-one to minimize false matches or data breaches.

The Motherboard article postulates that by “stating that they wish to maintain a database of images, and perform one-to-many searches, the RCMP appears to be disregarding both of these guidelines”.

While seeking clarification, the police service issued the following statement to Motherboard: “The RCMP does not currently have an approved project plan to implement a facial recognition system [but the new system would] allow the RCMP to implement facial recognition as an option.” The RCMP also noted in its statement to Motherboard that it does currently maintain a database of facial images voluntarily sent by “police agencies,” but “they are not being used or accessed by the RCMP at this time”.

The statement also noted that RCMP does not have a “policy on the retention of facial images, including purging rules,” and that these questions will be addressed when RCMP policy is “finalized.”

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