Ontario to investigate face-scanning at casinos – Privacy commissioner scrutinizes procedure

TORONTO — Ontario’s privacy commissioner is launching an investigation into the police use of facial-scanning technology in the province’s casinos.
Obviously disturbed by newspaper reports of the “covert casino surveillance,” Ann Cavoukian compared the digital photos to mug shots in a police database.

TORONTO — Ontario’s privacy commissioner is launching an investigation into the police use of facial-scanning technology in the province’s casinos.

Obviously disturbed by newspaper reports of the “covert casino surveillance,” Ann Cavoukian compared the digital photos to mug shots in a police database.

“I have asked the government again and again to please consult with us before launching any program that may impinge on privacy,” Ms. Cavoukian said today in a release. “I have no idea if the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario or the Ontario Provincial Police even conducted a privacy impact assessment of this project to assess the risk to privacy.”

The Hamilton Spectator reported today that police are secretly scanning the faces of customers at all provincial casinos for match-ups with mug shots in a special police database of people convicted of gaming offences.

The paper said the provincial government bought the high-tech face-recognition system so provincial police gaming enforcement teams can find criminals more easily inside casinos.

Calls to Bob Runciman, Ontario’s Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations, were not returned.

The province’s privacy commissioner said her office was now in a “fact-finding mode” to find out exactly whose faces are scanned, who has access to the scans and how long they are kept.

“This type of covert surveillance could lead us down a slippery slope,” said Ms. Cavoukian.

“You could now have on file a facial biometric, comparable to a fingerprint, just by walking into a casino,” she said. “This leaves us with many unanswered questions.”

The system, which allows police to compare images from live video surveillance inside the casino to a database of mug shots, is working 24 hours a day.

That means patrons of Casino Niagara, Casino Rama and Casino Windsor, and five charity casinos in cities such as Brantford, Ont., are subject to possible face-recognition scanning by police.

Police say they do not need special authority to operate the system because there is “no expectation of privacy” at a casino, provincial police Detective Superintendent Ken Smith told The Hamilton Spectator.

“Certainly in casinos, it’s well known to the population that they’re subject to video monitoring upon entry,” the officer said.

Many U.S. casinos and a few in Canada use privately assembled photo databases and face recognition to monitor customers.

But this is thought to be the first time in Canada that police have used a system on casino premises to find “hits” in their own sensitive criminal files.

Provincial police say they have assembled the database themselves and are only looking for people convicted of gaming offences under the Criminal Code.

Det. Supt. Smith said the Ontario casino system is not connected to any of Canada’s live criminal databases.

Author: James Stevenson

News Service: The Canadian Press

URL: http://www.nationalpost.com/home/story.html?f=/newsupdate/20010116story3.html