City councillor demands answers about facial recognition technology: 'We don't want to be living in 1984'

Marvin Rotrand is worried that Big Brother is watching us.

The Montreal city councillor has filed a motion to municipal council asking for a moratorium on the use of surveillance technology, including facial recognition programs, by the SPVM and other security agencies to ensure the rights of citizens are respected.

The motion will be discussed at city council August 19.

"Do you want to be spied upon when you go walk your dog, go to the supermarket, when you take out your garbage, when you go to the metro?" Rotrand said.

"Do we want as citizens our private lives to be open to scrutiny? There has got to a balance between legitimate public security, privacy and democracy."

He has also written to the privacy commissioner of Canada, Daniel Therrien, in the hopes of creating federal regulations, similar to those put in place by San Francisco, Oakland, and Somerville, Massachussetts, banning or limiting the use of these technologies.

Rotrand said he is not accusing the SPVM of using facial recognition technology but is concerned that because other cities' police agencies, including Toronto and Calgary, have already admitted using them that he expects Montreal police are doing the same. He said police are refusing to answer his written questions as an elected official and have not answered his access to information request. He adds that three months ago the Sureté du Quebec published a call for propositions for similar kinds of facial recognition software.

Rotrand said that in Toronto, various media outlets discovered that police there have been using the $500,000 "Stingray" surveillance program, which tracks cell phone data, for the past couple of years, even after the force denied using the technology.

The SPVM won’t admit that they are using this technology but Rotrand said it is time to put procedures in place to limit their use and protect the privacy rights of citizens.

"We don’t want to be watched all the time... those cameras that people are seeing popping up everywhere -- those cameras can all be linked so that the images can be sent to a database and your whole day can be tracked."

Rotrand said that some countries are using the technology for such "incivilities" as putting the garbage out too early or jaywalking, and not for the solving of serious crimes.

He adds that privacy is not the only concern. He said similar programs in China and London have led to a number of false positives and incorrect arrests.

"It opens the door to a surveillance society and I don’t think people want to be living in 1984."