Next-generation law enforcement


In May 2022, Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial privacy commissioners issued a joint statement, recommending a legal framework specific to facial recognition (FR) technologies. Such a law should clearly define the purposes for which police can use FR and those for which they can’t. It should also require that the use be necessary and proportionate for the proposed purpose and provide for appropriate privacy protections to mitigate the risks involved.

In the absence of a comprehensive legal framework and in light of the significant uncertainty that remains about the lawfulness of FR use by police and in which circumstances, the privacy commissioners released accompanying privacy guidance on facial recognition for police agencies. The purpose of this guidance is to clarify police agencies’ privacy obligations under current laws, with a view to helping them ensure that any purported use of FR technology complies with existing law, minimizes privacy risks, and respects privacy rights.

Building on our work with our federal, provincial, and territorial counterparts, and in response to requests by interested parties, the IPC began developing Ontario-specific guidance on one particular use case of FR: police use of facial recognition technology for searching mugshot databases. In 2022, our office engaged in ongoing consultations with representatives from police services, academia, government ministries, and civil society groups to receive their input on our approach to developing the guidance.

This guidance will build on the national guidelines and focus in on the key privacy, transparency and accountability recommendations and best practices to guide police when designing this specific type of program. The guidance will help police services and police services boards comply with their obligations under Ontario’s access and privacy laws and contribute to the adoption of up-to-date and consistent police practices for programs across Ontario. We will report back on the results of this initiative in our next annual report.

Coroner recommendations to address intimate partner violence

In August 2022, the Office of the Chief Coroner provided the IPC with the jury recommendations of an inquest into the murders of three women in rural eastern Ontario. Recommendation 78 called on the IPC to work with the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, justice partners, and intimate partner violence service providers to develop a plain language tool to empower intimate partner violence professionals to make informed decisions about privacy, confidentiality, and public safety. Our office readily agreed to carry out this critically-important recommendation.

Protecting personal information from unauthorized collection, use, and disclosure is essential. However, privacy must not be used as an excuse to prevent the lawful sharing of information, particularly when it is necessary to prevent serious harm. To implement recommendation 78, the IPC began consultations with intimate partner violence professionals to identify the dominant privacy issues and help balance the values, objectives and interests at play. We will report on outcomes in our next annual report.