Quebec asks the SAAQ to slow down the facial recognition project “until further notice” [Boss Insurance]

Genevieve Guilbault

Posted April 4, 2023 4:54 PM ET

Updated April 4, 2023 4:58 PM ET

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After the eventful launch of her new online portal, Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault is asking the Régie de l’assurance automobile to put a stop to a facial recognition project.

The digital transformation of the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) website was intended to simplify certain transactions, including license renewal, registration payment and exam reservations.

But even the CAQ minister responsible for cybersecurity and digital, Éric Caire, admitted that the deployment was a “fiasco”. The launch of SAAQclic encountered a setback after its servers were overloaded, creating a massive backlog and long queues at service centers for weeks.

For Guilbault, the debacle is enough to put the new project on ice.

“The modernization of public services is desirable, but given the challenges currently facing the @SAAQ, I have asked management to suspend all activities related to the implementation of a facial recognition solution until further notice. order,” Guilbault wrote in a tweet on Tuesday.

The project has been on the government’s radar for years and was recently highlighted in last month’s provincial budget as a “project of government interest.” The 2023-2024 budget document indicated that the government was interested in “a facial recognition solution for the optimization of the photo bank of the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec”.

This decision would also have been intended to use biometric data to prevent fraud.

Minister Guilbault says she sent a letter to the CEO of the SAAQ, Denis Marsolais, to inform him of her request.

“For now, I think we have our hands full with SAAQclic and company,” she told reporters at the National Assembly on Tuesday.

The project will be suspended, she said, “until the board has regained control of its operations and planning”, to the “satisfaction” of the deputy premier of Quebec.

“I would prefer that we settle the first situation before moving on to another,” she said.

Premier François Legault has previously said he wants to assess the work of the SAAQ’s CEO and board of directors in the coming weeks.

A cybersecurity expert has raised concerns about the facial recognition project. Patrick Mathieu, co-founder of Hackfest, said governments are not ready to handle sensitive data.

“What is concerning, obviously, is that the SAAQ is not able to do IT projects properly. Getting into something that is super sensitive for privacy, and maybe sharing that with a third party … entails a lot of risk, that’s for sure,” Mathieu said in an interview on Tuesday.

“Security by default and privacy by default in government is not something that is not being done right now. We are years away from that. we’re not there.”

With files from Matt Gilmour and CTV News Montreal’s Noovo Info