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RCMP Secret Facial Recognition Tool Looked for Matches with 700,000 ‘Terrorists’

RCMP Secret Facial Recognition Tool Looked for Matches with 700,000 ‘Terrorists’

Emails expose the BC force’s previously unknown purchase, which broke rules. Critics worry about privacy, racial profiling and false positives.

RCMP units in British Columbia broke the force’s own rules when they secretly subscribed to a facial recognition service that claims to help identify terrorists, documents newly obtained by The Tyee show.

Internal emails reveal that in 2016 the RCMP became a client of U.S.-based IntelCenter, whose website boasts of a massive cache of images acquired from various sources online, including social media.

IntelCenter offers enforcement agencies the ability to match against more than 700,000 faces the company says are tied to terrorism.

Until now, military, intelligence and law enforcement customers of the firm’s facial recognition service have remained secret. The BC RCMP units are IntelCenter’s first publicly revealed clients.

To create its software, IntelCenter partnered with a facial recognition tech company named Morpho, later bought and renamed Idemia, which provided biometric services for clients including the FBI, Interpol and the Chinese government.

In documents acquired by The Tyee through access to information requests, the RCMP blanked out its total volume of searches, but the US$20,000 price paid on contracts indicates the force likely purchased thousands of searches annually.

The B.C.-based E Division told The Tyee it bought the software to test its feasibility, and only did so in B.C. The contracts came to an end in 2019, said the BC RCMP. The force’s national headquarters said that it currently has no national contracts.

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How to Beat Facial Recognition Software

How to Beat Facial Recognition Software


  • Already In Use
  • How It Works
  • Hiding in Plain Sight
  • How You Should Avoid Detection

Imagine a world where everywhere you go, you are being watched, scrutinized, penalized, or rewarded for your behavior.  In some countries, this is is their reality.  If you run a temperature, a camera connected to some software locks the door and bars your entrance.  You step out into a walkway but catch yourself almost walking against the light, so you step back onto the sidewalk.  It’s too late, though. Your jaywalking ticket is already in the mail to you.  Imagine the marketing agencies knowing when you went into a retail store, how long you lingered, what you bought, how you paid for the items, and how they are used.

It’s not hard to imagine because the capabilities of the software, hardware, facial detection, and facial recognition software have grown tremendously over the last decade and the aggregation of data will explode over the next few years. Such systems are already in place and are already making decisions about how you can live your life.  With each passing month, the systems become more integrated with each other.  As your retail purchases database and spending habits sync up with your online search history and your income and demographics information, tying your face to the data is the final piece of the puzzle.  Once that piece is ubiquitous in public places, anything from targeted advertisements to all-point-bulletins is possible.  Doors can be locked in your face.  Tickets can be issued.  Rewards can be given, or fines can be incurred.  Your smartphone, the most prominent tracking device you willingly carry with you, is nothing compared to the exact signature of your face…

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Do you own your own face?

Do you own your own face?

The question of whether you own your own face may not be as clear as you might think. Companies are already buying and selling information worldwide based on facial recognition technology. In January of this year I proposed that the United States adopt a constitutional amendment which would give each person ownership of his or her information including facial likenesses and any other biometric data. Now, some U.S. senators think that those gathering your likeness into their databases should have your permission first to do so.

Those senators are not alone. In September Portland, Oregon passed a sweeping ban on facial recognition technology for both government and businesses. San Francisco, Boston and Oakland have passed bans as well, but only for governmental agencies.

Those supporting such bans have cited racial and gender biases built into the algorithms controlling the technology as a central reason for the ban. Beyond this, a California legislator who led the fight to ban such technology for use in conjunction with police body cameras—including passing recordings through facial recognition software later—found out something even more disturbing. The technology which depends on a variety of algorithms is woefully inaccurate. The legislator and 25 of his colleagues were misidentified as persons listed in a law enforcement database as having criminal records.

That suggests another question: Would it be okay to deploy facial recognition technology everywhere governments and companies would like to if that technology were, say, 99.9 percent accurate?

There are those who would say, “If you aren’t doing anything wrong, then you don’t have anything to worry about.” There are three problems with this statement. First, there are so many laws—traffic laws, sanitation laws such as laws against spitting in public, seatbelt laws, ordinances about conduct in public places including parks—that all of us are bound to violate some law at some time everyday.

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