Face Recognition Software and Your Privacy

facial recognition software icbc hockey riot vancouver 2011Police could be using face recognition software to identify people captured in photos during the Vancouver Hockey riots. ICBC has offered to run photos provided by the police to match subjects with faces and names in their database.

The question is, if one company is allowed to use their database of photos to identify us, what’s to stop another from doing the same? Facebook, a company that is notorious for public privacy issues, ran into trouble when it tried to introduce facial recognition software that would automatically tag people in photos. Is this situation any different?

According to the Vancouver Sun, “while ICBC’s proposal to share its database is within the law, Denham [BC’s Information and Privacy Commissioner] said she has misgivings about it because it is a case of information collected for one purpose being used for another purpose.” 

In other words, when you have your picture taken for your driver’s licence, they don’t tell you that your photo could be used for police investigations. It’s the same with any other privacy issue concerns; when we sign up for a service, we don’t expect that the information we provide will be sold to other parties.

ICBC spokesman Adam Grossman said if there is a confirmed match, ICBC will let the police know but it will only turn over personal data if the police get a court order requiring it. Grossman said the police haven’t submitted any photos yet [June 24] but he said he thinks that is because it is early in their investigations.

This decision comes with the support of the provincial government: “Subject to receipt of a court order, the corporation’s facial-recognition technology will be able to support the identification of suspects,” states a news release issued (June 17) by Premier Christy Clark’s office.

ICBC uses facial recognition software developed by the U.S. company L-1 Identity Solutions.