Dufferin News Municipal

Orangeville Under Surveillance?! What is IRIS R&D?

UPDATE August 1, 2020: IRIS R&D Group has notified Dufferin News that the sources used for this reporting, including the IRIS R&D Group website, contained incorrect and outdated information. IRIS R&D Group has clarified that the facial recognition technology referenced in this reporting is not owned by IRIS R&D Group, but a separate entity owned by the co-founders. This entity has partnered with a police service for research and development purposes with the intent to refine this technology, and it is not currently being used by police services outside of this instance.  IRIS R&D Group states that it does not own, or currently have access to, any facial recognition technology. IRIS R&D Group asserts that it has no plans to integrate facial recognition into any of its products, including the irisGO, and that its products are MFIPPA Compliant.

MFIPPA requires that local government institutions protect the privacy of an individual’s personal information with rules regarding the collection, retention, use, disclosure and disposal of personal information. There are hefty penalties to municipalities who do not take this seriously. Orangeville is the first municipality to use irisGO to ensure COVID-19 safe-distancing is followed. This pilot allows Orangeville to temporarily use irisGO as an automated people counter. When an area is over-capacity the municipality is provided with a notification on their phone or email of overcrowding. No faces or private information is ever collected or stored. Objects identified as people are indicated as red boxes that are blurred out and unrecognizable.

Further updates to come…

Orangeville has installed cameras equipped with artificial intelligence at the skate park and the community garden. Many concerns have been raised over this. Josh MacEwen discusses this and IRIS R&D, the company that developed this technology.

The camera being offered by IRIS R&D to the Town of Orangeville is called the irisGO. Once COVID is less of a threat, and the cameras are no longer needed for the purposes of ensuring safe-distancing guidelines, they can be repurposed for a variety of functions such as monitoring road conditions and snow accumulation on rooftops.

IRIS R&D is a startup based out of Oakville, Ontario. They are best-known for the iPORT, a dashcam that uses similar technology as the cameras in Orangeville to help automate processes around road maintenance. They have also implemented variants of the technology in healthcare to do remote cardiorespiratory monitoring in hospitals. This collects data such as breathing and heart rates, in addition to skin temperature.

IRIS R&D emphasizes that the irisGO has many privacy-centric features, such as having images with people encrypted and redacted to blur faces upon receipt, and all redacted images being deleted after one day. At the same time, Josh has found out that IRIS R&D is working on a face recognition technology called FaceMatch that is being piloted with police departments. We have found no evidence that this software is present in the irisGO cameras installed in Orangeville, but that does not mean there couldn’t be in the future.

Although there are tremendous benefits to the technology that IRIS R&D offers, Josh acknowledges that people do have valid concerns over this. Racial bias, privacy concerns, and possible human rights infringements come to mind. Josh has sent questions to IRIS R&D, who should have answers back to us by next week. Josh shares the questions and the rationale for asking them in this video. This is done for the purposes of transparency and to reduce the chances of the story being sensationalized, as some have raised concerns over this as well. Questions include whether or not it’s possible for facial recognition technology to be installed on an irisGO and who owns the data that the cameras generate. This second question is important as it is quite possible personal health data can be captured by these cameras.

Please share your thoughts on this technology and these questions, in addition to any questions you have for IRIS R&D. We’ll do our best to get them answered!

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