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Statement by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada following an investigation into Clearview AI

February 3, 2021
By teleconference

Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien issued the following statement at a media teleconference.

(Check against delivery)

Good morning and thank you for joining us. I will start us off and then turn to my colleagues from Quebec, B.C. and Alberta to share a few words. We would then be happy to take your questions.

Clearview sells a facial recognition tool that allows law enforcement and commercial organizations to match photographs of unknown people against a massive databank of 3 billion images, scraped from the Internet. The vast majority of these people have never been, and will never be, implicated in any crime.

What Clearview does is mass surveillance and it is illegal. It is an affront to individuals’ privacy rights and inflicts broad-based harm on all members of society, who find themselves continually in a police lineup. This is completely unacceptable.

For its part, Clearview has put forward a series of arguments based on the law’s current approach that privacy rights and commercial interests must be balanced against one another.

The company essentially claims that individuals who placed or permitted their images to be placed on the Internet lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in such images, that the information was publicly available, and that the company’s appropriate business interests and freedom of expression should prevail. 

My colleagues and I think these arguments must be rejected. As federal Commissioner, I hope that Parliament considers this case as it reviews Bill C-11, the proposed new private-sector privacy legislation. I hope Parliamentarians will send a clear message that where, as here, there is a conflict between commercial objectives and privacy protection, Canadians’ privacy rights should prevail. 

Thank you. I will now turn things over to my colleague, Diane Poitras of the Commission d’accès à l’information du Québec.

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