Report finds US law enforcement agencies frequently use facial recognition technology

Facial recognition used nearly 1m times by US police

Clearview’s founder told the BBC that the company has done nearly a million searches for US police using facial recognition.

CEO Hoan Ton-That also said that Clearview now has 30 billion images that were taken without the users’ permission from sites like Facebook.

US law enforcement agencies deploy facial recognition technology excessively
Facial recognition technology in US policing under scrutiny after almost 1 million uses

In Europe and Australia, the company has been fined millions of dollars more than once for privacy violations.

Critics say that when the police use Clearview, everyone is put in a “permanent police line-up.”

Matthew Guariglia from the Electronic Frontier Foundation says, “If they have a picture of a suspect, they will compare it to your face.” “It’s way too much of a bother.”

The million searches number comes from Clearview, and police have not confirmed it. But, in a rare admission, the Miami Police Department told the BBC that it uses this software to solve all kinds of crimes.

Customers in law enforcement can use Clearview’s system to upload a picture of a face and look for matches in a database of billions of images.

It then gives links to places online where matching images can be found. It is thought to be one of the most powerful and accurate companies in the world when it comes to recognizing faces.

After the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took Clearview AI to court in Illinois for breaking privacy laws, the company is no longer allowed to sell its services to most US companies.

But there is an exception for police, and Mr. Ton-That says that hundreds of police departments in the US use his software.

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The software is banned in several US cities, including Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle. Police in the US don’t usually say if they use it, and if they do, they don’t say.

People often think that the police only use facial recognition for very serious or violent crimes.

In a rare interview with a law enforcement official about how well Clearview works, Miami Police said they used it for all kinds of crimes, from murder to shoplifting.

Armando Aguilar, the assistant chief of police, said that his team used the system about 450 times a year and that it had helped solve a few murders.

But critics say that there are almost no laws about how police can use facial recognition.

Mr. Aguilar says that face recognition is just a tip for the police in Miami. “An algorithm doesn’t tell us to make an arrest,” he says. “Either we put that name in a photo lineup or we use old-fashioned methods to solve the case.”

Mistaken identity


There have been a few times when the police used facial recognition and got the wrong person. But because police don’t share data and aren’t open about what they do, it’s likely that the real number is much higher.

Mr. Ton-That says he has never heard of Clearview being used to make a mistaken identity. He agrees that police have made mistakes when using facial recognition technology, but he says that was because of “bad policing.”

Clearview often points to studies that show that it is almost always right. But mugshots are often used to make these estimates.

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In reality, Clearview’s accuracy depends on the quality of the image it receives, which Mr. Ton-That agrees with.

Civil rights activists want police departments that use Clearview to be open about when they use it and to test its accuracy in court. They want independent experts to look at the algorithm because they don’t believe what the company says.

Kaitlin Jackson is a New York-based criminal defence lawyer who fights against the police using facial recognition.

“I think the idea that this is very accurate is just wishful thinking,” she says. “You can’t know that if you use images from the real world, like screen grabs from CCTV.”

But Mr. Ton-That told the BBC that he does not want to say that it is true in court.

“We don’t really want to testify in court about how accurate the algorithm is,” he says, “because the investigators are also using other ways to check it.”

Mr. Ton-That says that he has recently given the Clearview system to defence lawyers in certain cases. He thinks that both the prosecution and the defence should be able to use the same technology.

Last year, charges against Andrew Conlyn from Fort Myers, Florida, were dropped because Clearview helped find a key witness.

In March 2017, Mr. Conlyn was riding in a friend’s car when it crashed into some palm trees at high speed.

The car driver was thrown out and killed. A bystander helped Mr. Conlyn out of the wreckage but didn’t say anything.

Even though Mr. Conlyn said he was a passenger, the police thought he was driving, so he was charged with killing someone with a car.

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Police body cam footage showed his lawyers what the person looked like. Just before his trial, Mr. Ton-That gave permission for Clearview to be used as evidence.

Christopher O’Brien, Mr. Conlyn’s defence lawyer, told the BBC, “This AI popped him up in like three to five seconds.” It was wonderful.”

Vince Ramirez, who was a witness, said that he took Mr. Conlyn out of the passenger seat. The charges were dropped soon after.

But even though Clearview has been shown to work in some cases, some people think it costs too much.

“Clearview is a private company that uses people’s online photos to make face prints without their permission,” says Mr. Guariglia.

“It’s a huge problem for civil rights and freedoms, and it needs to be banned right away.”

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