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Policy in the works for use of phone-cracking, facial recognition tech, says Guelph police lawyer

Guelph Police Service seeking input from Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police and Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner
20200617 Guelph Police Headquarters KA
Guelph Police headquarters. Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday file photo

Following concerns about Guelph police’s use of new technology – including smartphone-cracking to gather personal information and facial recognition software – a “formal procedure” is being considered, says the department’s lawyer.

However, it’s looking for guidance on the issue from the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police  (OACP) and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPC), notes Judith Stoffman in an email statement to GuelphToday.

“The Guelph Police Service will be taking a very principled approach in the drafting of our procedure to ensure compliance with the anticipated guidance of the IPC in this regard,” she states.

“The Guelph Police Service looks forward to continuing to work collaboratively with the IPC and the OACP to ensure we are best able to use the most up-to-date technologies available to our members for law enforcement purposes while recognizing the need for transparency and accountability to our community in our use of those technologies.”

The department previously acknowledged use of Clearview AI facial recognition services, which are no longer provided in Canada, as well as a GrayKey device that allows access to data on otherwise locked and password-protected smartphones.

In a report to the Guelph Police Services Board in December, Stoffman explained local officers used the GrayKey mobile forensic tool up to 50 times, but only once legal authorization was received through a court-issued warrant, coroner’s authority or with consent of the phone’s owner.

“Great care is taken to ensure the GrayKey device is used in accordance with judicial authorization and/or owner consent,” Stoffman said in her report.

In Stoffman’s report, she said the device has only been used by the department’s two-person technical crimes unit.

The IPC recently sought stakeholder input on the development of “boundaries to ensure that law enforcement’s adoption of new technologies used to protect public safety also responses Ontarians’ access and privacy rights while ensuring transparency and accountability of personal information collected, used and disclosed,” explains the IPC website.

A report on the result of those consultations is expected to be released later this year.

“As a member of the OACP Legal Advisors group, I can advise that it has been recommended that there be an OACP working group to partner with the IPC, in consultation with our Ministry (Minister of the Solicitor General), to come up with best practices and potentially universal procedures,” added Stoffman in her statement to GuelphToday.