(MOTHERBOARD) For over a year, Canadian military, intelligence, police, and border agencies have been meeting to develop and coordinate their biometric capabilities, which use biological markers like facial recognition and iris scanning to identify individuals.
This initiative—details of which were revealed to Motherboard in documents obtained through an access to information request—shows that the Canadian government is reigniting its focus on biometrics after a similar attempt a decade ago fizzled out. According to these documents, which include emails, meeting agendas, and briefing reports, the meetings are an effort to coordinate the critical mass of biometrics programs that exist across many government agencies, particularly those relating to national security.
The US has put together such working groups before, like the National Science and Technology Council‘s subcommittee on biometrics. Established in 2003, the initiative was a formal working group to coordinate biometrics efforts and it regularlyreleased public reports. In contrast, the Canadian effort is “informal,” spokespeople emphasized, and it hasn’t been promoted by the government except for four tweets from Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), the department that spearheaded the initiative.
Spokespeople for various government branches also stressed that no actual biometric information is being shared between agencies at these meetings, which would be a major concern for privacy advocates. But documents show that database sharing was part of the discussions, raising questions about how Canadians’ biometric information is handled behind closed doors.
“If information is being shared behind the scenes with organizations or agencies that an individual is not informed about, then that wipes out consent,” Brenda McPhail, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s privacy project, told me. “Our privacy laws are based on consent.”