Cabinet will fully implement a facial recognition system for 25 million Canadian passport holders within two years, Blacklocks reported. The program would see federal agencies compile a database of millions of Canadian faces.
"The department must have facial recognition system support capabilities in place no later than October 2023," the Department of Citizenship wrote in a notice Facial Recognition Solution. The cost of the program was not detailed.
Canadians who apply for passports give their consent outright to have their photographs stored in a federal database, according to the notice.
The notice said: "Applicants consent to their photos being used to confirm identity through the passport program's facial recognition system."
"Facial recognition systems act as an effective and accurate tool for the department's passport program for use in authenticating the identity of each adult passport applicant, which helps to increase the assurance the applicant is who they say they are," wrote staff, despite little proof of identity fraud.
There are few confirmed cases of identity fraud in the passport system, according to a 2020 Evaluation Of The Passport Program.
Auditors found an average of 57 cases a year. "The number of confirmed cases of identity fraud is small," said Evaluation.
Under the program, Canada's Citizenship Department compiles passport photos in a mammoth electronic database. "This technology applies a digital biometric template to an applicant's picture and compares it to a database of over 45 million adult applicant photos to validate their identity," said Evaluation.
Auditors added the program was "not well integrated with the passport issuance system" to date despite years of study beginning with a 2016 pilot project. MPs earlier complained the program has grown with little parliamentary scrutiny.
"The issue of facial recognition, the data and images that are used, I am very concerned as an individual but also as a legislator," Bloc Quebecois MP Marie-Helene Gaudreau told a June 21 hearing of the Commons ethics committee.
"When I'm asked about what we have done to protect people properly, I'm a little embarrassed," Gaudreau said at the June hearing.
"Most folks have already provided their biometric information if only for the purposes of a passport," Bloc MP Rheal Fortin told a May 10 hearing. "Don't you think it's a bit too late to prevent the misuse of that information?"
"It is indeed late," replied Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien.
In a 2013 report, Automated Facial Recognition In The Public And Private Sectors, the Privacy Commissioner said "faces have been transformed into electronic information" with technology that raised troubling questions.
"Is the measure demonstrably necessary?" said the report. "Would the loss of privacy be proportionate to the benefit gained?"
Parliament in 2018 passed Bill C-21, An Act To Amend The Customs Act that allowed cabinet to pass executive orders "prescribing the source from which information may be collected" without public consultation.