Alberta Privacy Commissioner challenges facial ID systems

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Alberta’s Privacy Commissioner has completed his investigation into the Babylon Health app, finding that the app violates the province’s Health Information Act (HIA) and Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) on several fronts. Specifically, the Commissioner objected to the application’s use of facial and document recognition, which is used for identity verification.

In this regard, the Commissioner argued that Babylon does not need to use facial biometrics to provide health services and that the terms of use do not sufficiently justify this practice. Accordingly, the Commissioner considers that the use of facial recognition is disproportionate and that Babylon should instead rely on another form of identity verification.

In its response, Babylon claimed that its use of facial recognition is based on international best practices for remote identity verification. The app asks users to take a photo of an ID, then uses facial recognition to match the person to that document. In this regard, the process is comparable to that used in finance and other highly regulated industries around the world.

With that in mind, the Commissioner’s decision would appear to have serious implications for any application offering face-based identity verification services. The ruling essentially suggests that there is no valid reason to use facial recognition, up to and including fraud prevention. Babylon noted that biometric identification helps guard against medical fraud, but the Privacy Commissioner explicitly rejected that argument and said facial verification was unnecessary.

Babylon itself is a foreign company, although Telus has acquired and manages the company’s Canadian operations. The commissioner was specifically investigating the Babylon by Telus Health app and disputed that the terms of service were unclear and referred to utilities that were not actually available through the app. He also said that many of the app’s features, including the symptom checker, health check, and audio recording features violate various aspects of the HIA and PIPA laws. Babylon removed a video recording feature in June 2020 in response to the Commissioner’s investigation.

As it stands, it is not clear whether there is a facial recognition or health tracking app that would meet the standards of the Privacy Commissioner. However, the commissioner has indicated that he is in favor of virtual healthcare solutions, as long as they comply with the province’s privacy laws.

Source: Global News

August 4, 2021 – by Eric Weiss


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