“That the RCMP is looking at purchasing this kind of capability is in line with what the FBI and other [law enforcement agencies] around the world are doing,” said Christopher Parsons, a postdoctoral fellow at Toronto-based surveillance research hub Citizen Lab.
A previously published RCMP document notes that all of the new system’s scanners for fingerprints and facial images “must have undergone testing by the FBI and be listed on the FBI Certified Products List.”
“However,” Parsons continued, “in all of those jurisdictions there are significant privacy concerns, concerns about the general efficacy of the technology, concerns about whether too much data is collected in the first place, and concerns linked to the risks associated with information sharing between departments.”
The FBI’s biometric database, called the Next Generation Identification (NGI), has been widely criticized by civil rights groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union due to the potential for abuse by officers. As numerous incidents in the UK and US have shown, police are sometimes unable to resist the urge to dip into a database of personal information to settle their own very personal scores.
There may be an additional privacy risk in Canada, Parsons wrote, thanks to recent legislation that made it even easier for federal agencies to share information. A January 2016 email sent to S/Sgt. Michael Leben, manager of RCMP latent fingerprint operations in Ottawa, states that the force’s new AFIS system is part of a joint venture with Canada Border Services Agency to identify people entering Canada.
The RCMP has a bid out where companies would have to be able to add-on facial recognition capabilities to the primary fingerprint-biometric system. And the RCMP currently lacks the authority to engage in such facial and bodily recognition. But that’s not stopping it from planning for the future…