"This technology, which is unregulated in Canada, threatens people's fundamental rights and freedoms." — Larry Brown, NUPGE President
Ottawa (08 July 2020) — The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) joins 30 organizations, including the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG) and OpenMedia, and nearly 50 individuals in calling on the Canadian government to ban the use of facial recognition surveillance by federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
The full letter, addressed to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair is available on the ICLMG webpage. It includes the list of signatories.
A threat to fundamental rights
"Facial recognition surveillance is invasive and inaccurate," said Tim McSorley, National Coordinator of the Ottawa-based ICLMG, which, along with OpenMedia, initiated the campaign.
Studies confirm the racial biases in facial recognition surveillance, with leading technology mis-identifying Black, Asian, and Indigenous faces 10 to 100 times more than white faces. At a time when society is pushing to address systemic racism in policing, adopting a technology that is known for its racial biases is a move in the wrong direction.
"Even if these biases could be addressed, the dangers posed by facial recognition surveillance to our rights would persist," said Larry Brown, President of NUPGE. Facial recognition surveillance undermines our freedoms of association, assembly, expression and movement, as well as the right to privacy and protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
"This technology, which is unregulated in Canada, threatens people's fundamental rights and freedoms," said Brown.
Absence of laws and policies is a problem
Canada’s existing privacy laws do not regulate biometrics, including facial recognition, allowing the technology to be adopted by police forces across the country without any oversight or clear rules.
Along with the ban on the use of facial recognition surveillance by law enforcement and intelligence agencies at the federal level, the signatories are also calling on the government to initiate a meaningful, public consultation on all aspects of facial recognition technology in Canada; and establish clear and transparent policies and laws regulating the use of facial recognition in Canada.
Even with a federal ban on facial recognition surveillance in place, it will be crucial to establish limits around other uses of facial recognition at all levels of government. For example, provinces and municipalities must act to halt the use of facial recognition by local and regional law enforcement.
Action is needed now
"The federal government has an opportunity to be a leader on this issue by taking a firm stance on facial recognition surveillance," said Laura Tribe, Executive Director at OpenMedia.
Indeed, it has a responsibility to do so. Minister Blair must enact a ban on the use of facial recognition surveillance, before we see more harm done.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE