Canada’s government coordinating biometric efforts

Canadian government agencies and police are coordinating the development of their biometric capabilities, according to a report published in Motherboard.

Over the last year, Canada’s military, national police, border agency and intelligence establishment have reportedly been sharing information to “foster collaboration between federal departments and agencies that have an interest in biometric technologies and their application”, according to a National Defence spokesperson.

The article notes that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canadian Armed Forces, as well as the country’s border and immigration agencies are all participants in the “Government of Canada Biometrics Community of Practice (CoP)”, a working group which held its first meeting in Ottawa in March 2016.

Discussions at the CoP meeting, according to the report, included the roll out and deployment of facial recognition kiosks at airports, which began across the country in early 2017. The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) told Motherboard however that the kiosk program was “developed independently” from the interagency working group.

BiometricUpdate.com reported in March that CBSA’s Primary Inspection Kiosk (PIK) program had been under development since at least 2015. The facial recognition technology being used for Canada’s airport kiosks is apparently similar to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s 1-to-1 Facial Comparison Project, which takes a photo of the traveler’s face and compares it with the image stored on the chip embedded in their electronic passport.

The Motherboard report found that while agencies meeting on biometrics did not share any actual biometric data, meeting transcripts suggest that database sharing and closer cooperation between domestic agencies were discussed.

Such coordination is not surprising, since the government has been moving towards greater integration of its intelligence operations. Privacy advocates however have been weary of this trend, since they believe that government data sharing should be transparent and ratified in law.

Brenda McPhail, a director at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association told Motherboard: “If groups are going to be created for the purpose of creating programs and sharing information, it’s important that the public know the terms of reference” in order for there to be accountability.

Because accountability is currently a major concern for civil society, it seems government is responding. As recently as today, the Canadian government introduced legislation designed to strengthen its national security framework. The new overhaul of the country’s anti-terrorism laws will create a new civilian oversight mechanism that will review all security and intelligence agencies, along with a new intelligence commissioner, who would review and approve decisions on the classes of data sets that can be collected. The commissioner will also review and approve authorizations for retaining foreign intelligence data.

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