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Groups launch research program to study police facial recognition in Ontario

Groups launch research program to study police facial recognition in Ontario

A joint research program in the province of Ontario between a university, a policing technology accelerator, and a civil liberties organization will explore the implications of facial recognition by law enforcement and seek answers to difficult questions surrounding the biometric modality.

Ontario Tech University announced its participation in a community research partnership with the V13 Policetech Accelerator and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) to study the use of facial recognition by police. The research program was funded by a three-year, $200,000 grant provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and a future contribution from the V13 Policetech Accelerator’s Start-up Stream.

The V13 Policetech Accelerator is a collaboration between the Cobourg Police Service and the Northumberland Community Futures Development Corporation to create and implement innovative policing technologies and best practices in Ontario.

The program will give the university’s research team comprised of Dr. Andrea Slane, a law professor, and Dr. Christopher O’Connor, a criminology professor, the opportunity to collaborate with a group of frontline police personnel named the CPS Innovation Platoon. The team will look to develop and validate new approaches for policing and facial recognition in a pilot-scale environment set in a small town.

“There is significant concern about facial recognition technology in policing, particularly with regard to bias in the technology and lack of oversight. We all desire our communities to be safer, but we also want deployments of technology by police to be fair and to preserve privacy except where truly justified,” says Slane.

Other academics joining the program include Lisa Austin, the University of Toronto’s chair in Law and Technology, and Brenda McPhail of the CCLA. McPhail comments, “As a society, we need to ask the full range of critical questions about facial recognition technology, starting with if it’s a good idea to use it. Once we’re past that foundational question, we can move on to where, when, and how facial recognition technology might be used in Canada, and what significant and legally enforceable safeguards are necessary to protect individual and community privacy.”

Such worries about face biometrics were aired out in a standing committee held by Canadian Members of Parliament, who questioned Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers about their use of facial recognition and were left largely unsatisfied by the “evasive” answers.

With plans to conclude the program in 2024, the announcement says it seeks to identify good models of public engagement so people can contribute meaningfully, and offer a governance model that can be trusted.

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