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Police Across Canada Are Using Predictive Policing Algorithms, Report Finds

Police across Canada are increasingly using controversial algorithms to predict where crimes could occur, who might go missing, and to help them determine where they should patrol, despite fundamental human rights concerns, a new report has found.

To Surveil and Predict: A Human Rights Analysis of Algorithmic Policing in Canada is the result of a joint investigation by the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program (IHRP) and Citizen Lab. It details how, in the words of the report’s authors, “law enforcement agencies across Canada have started to use, procure, develop, or test a variety of algorithmic policing methods,” with potentially dire consequences for civil liberties, privacy and other Charter rights, the authors warn.

The report breaks down how police are using or considering the use of algorithms for several purposes including predictive policing, which uses historical police data to predict where crime will occur in the future. Right now in Canada, police are using algorithms to analyze data about individuals to predict who might go missing, with the goal of one day using the technology in other areas of the criminal justice system. Some police services are using algorithms to automate the mass collection and analysis of public data, including social media posts, and to apply facial recognition to existing mugshot databases for investigative purposes. “Algorithmic policing technologies are present or under consideration throughout Canada in the forms of both predictive policing and algorithmic surveillance tools.” the report reads