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Quebec insurance portal re-launches facial recognition program to organize photo bank

Quebec insurance portal re-launches facial recognition program to organize photo bank

Quebec’s provincial automobile insurance registry is bringing back its facial recognition program, which was suspended last year – this time, to tidy up its biometric image database.

An article in Le journal de Québec says the Société d’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) will use facial recognition technology to deduplicate and manage its citizen photo bank, despite the messy cessation of its previous attempt to incorporate face biometrics for identity verification into its system. That came as part of a larger attempted digital transformation initiative, SAAQcliq, which was intended to streamline the system but suffered from inadequate training and testing before implementation, leading to huge backlogs online, long delays at service centers and the declaration that it had become “a fiasco.”

Transportation Minister Geneviève Guilbault subsequently put the project on hold.

Gino Desrosiers, who handles media relations for SAAQ, says the new resurrected variant of its facial recognition tool “will allow the management of our current photo bank for driving licenses and health insurance cards, in particular to eliminate duplicates.” Thales DIS Canada is supplying Cognitec technology as the chosen platform to run the system, the use of which will be limited to the so-called clean up of the agency’s image bank.

Data protection advocates are not impressed, believing more public debate is needed before the facial recognition program is relaunched in any form. Diane Poitras, President of the Commission for Access to Information (CAI), says that “without adequate supervision, facial recognition is therefore likely to have considerable impacts on the privacy and other rights of individuals.”

Meanwhile, the Liberal opposition is calling for a legislative commission to look at what risks the technology poses, including fraud and identity theft. A report in the Montreal Gazette cites concerns from Liberal MNA Michelle Setlakwe, who argues that dismissing the project as simply cleaning up a bank of photos ignores its wider implications.

“This technology may be used at first to organize the SAAQ photo bank, but we know it is the entry point for a Quebec system of digital identity that could be used on various government platforms,” says Setlakwe. She notes that public trust was damaged by the SAAQclic trainwreck and that “we have to be very careful to avoid another fiasco.”

Premier François Legault has shrugged off the Liberal allegations, accusing his critics of sowing political discord over the SAAQ facial recognition program.

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