Toronto Police officers have reportedly been using a controversial face recognition tool in recent times. Toronto Police used Clearview AI until Chief Mark Saunders found out and ordered that the practice be halted. The technology has been highly criticized for its impact on privacy as it takes information from billions of images online. 

According to the Toronto Star, Clearview AI is a U.S. technology company that provides law enforcement agencies with artificial intelligence facial recognition tools.

The hot debate around the software centres on where and how the company sources those images. The app itself identifies people by searching from the web, which also includes pics from social media.

Apparently, Chief Saunders did not know that TPS officers were using the tool.

Police spokesperson Meaghan Gray confirmed to Narcity on Thursday, February 13, that some officers had started using this particular technology back in October 2019.*

Gray did not share what the tech had been used for in the 6ix or how frequently it was employed.

“Some members of the Toronto Police Service began using Clearview AI in October 2019 with the intent of informally testing this new and evolving technology," Gray wrote in an email to Narcity on Thursday.

"The Chief directed that its use be halted immediately upon his awareness, and the order to cease using the product was given on February 5, 2020."

Gray concluded: "Until a fulsome review of the product is completed, it will not be used by the Toronto Police Service.”

It wasn't stated, however, who originally approved the use of the application.

Global News reports a response from TPS to a request made by the media outlet in January initially said it does use facial recognition software, but not technology by Clearview AI.

It wasn’t until earlier this year that the controversial Clearwater software began to face severe scrutiny.

A New York Times investigation showed that more than three billion images from social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook were used to create a massive database.

Over 600 law enforcement agencies in the U.S., Canada, and around the world, are able to utilize those records, via CBC.

In just the last month, major tech companies and websites like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have actually demanded that Clearview stop using data from their sites, according to the Star.

The Star also reports that in May 2019, the TPS shared that the only tool they were using for matches was one available through their own internal database and mugshots.

“There are no plans to expand the TPS’s use of facial recognition beyond our current mugshot database, we are not judicially authorized to do so,” said Staff Insp. Stephen Harris of the forces’ Forensic Identification Service, back in May.

TPS had previously courted some controversy last year when they announced they would start gathering race-based data from the public in September 2019.

*This article has been updated.

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