Deconstructing public participation in the governance of facial recognition technologies in Canada

Maurice Jones,Fenwick McKelvey

AI & SOCIETY(2024)

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Abstract
On February 13, 2020, the Toronto Police Services (TPS) issued a statement admitting that its members had used Clearview AI’s controversial facial recognition technology (FRT). The controversy sparked widespread outcry by the media, civil society, and community groups, and put pressure on policy-makers to address FRTs. Public consultations presented a key tool to contain the scandal in Toronto and across Canada. Drawing on media reports, policy documents, and expert interviews, we investigate four consultations held by the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB), the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC), and the parliamentary Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics (ETHI) to understand how public opinion and outrage translate into policy. We find that public consultations became a powerful closure mechanism in the policy-making toolbox, inhibiting rather than furthering democratic debate. Our findings show that consultations do not advance public literacy; that opportunities for public input are narrow; that timeframes are short; and that mechanisms for inclusion are limited. Even in the best-case circumstances, consultations are merely one of many factors in AI governance and seldom impact concrete policy outcomes in the cases studied here.
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Key words
AI governance,Consultations,Public participation,Facial recognition technologies,Biometric surveillance,AI policing
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