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Police use of facial biometrics draws scrutiny; helps rescue thousands of children in India

Police use of facial biometrics draws scrutiny; helps rescue thousands of children in India

Clearview AI has been telling prospective clients that it is offering or planning to offer facial biometric technology to at least 22 countries outside of the U.S., several of which have committed human rights abuses, according to BuzzFeed News.

The publication obtained a document from the company promoting its “rapid international expansion,” which was part of a presentation to North Miami Police in November of 2019. The document includes the United Arab Emirates, which has a history of criminalizing dissent, as well as Qatar and Singapore, countries where homosexuality is illegal.

Company founder Hoan Ton-That confirmed only that the company is doing business in the U.S. and Canada, but said that interest has come from many countries.

New York University Fellow and Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn expressed alarm at the potential for Clearview to enable authoritarian behavior, and dismissed Ton-That’s argument that its biometric data scraping is constitutionally protected.

“No court has ever found the First Amendment gives a constitutional right to use publicly available information for facial recognition,” Cahn told BuzzFeed News. “Just because Clearview may have a right to scrape some of this data, that doesn’t mean that they have an immunity from lawsuits from those of us whose information is being sold without our consent.”

The anticipated round of BIPA suits against Clearview is also kicking off, with a lawyer representing a plaintiff in Illinois telling BuzzFeed News that the company has violated “citizens’ constitutional rights in numerous ways.”

Clearview’s facial recognition data harvesting may also not be legal for application to European citizens under GDPR, the report notes, though the map of 22 countries includes nine EU nations. The company has been known to both market its services aggressively to police, and to claim business relationships subsequently denied by the other alleged party.

At the same time, more police forces around the world are testing facial recognition.

The Privacy Commissioner for the Canadian province of Alberta is advising Edmonton Police to submit a privacy review and seek oversight for any facial recognition projects, after the agency said it will consider its options, CBC reports.

An Edmonton Police Service spokesperson says the proposal under consideration is to use the technology in existing investigations by searching “a database of pictures previously obtained for a lawful purpose.”

A spokesperson from the commissioner’s office noted that analytic technologies raise significant privacy and personal information security questions.

Calgary and Toronto are the only cities in Canada known to be using facial recognition so far.

Canadian Civil Liberties Association privacy, surveillance and technology project director Brenda MacPhail sounded the alarm, saying of the technology: “It fundamentally changes the nature of the relationship between citizens and law enforcement because it takes away even the possibility of anonymity in public spaces.”

Croatia is planning to launch a facial recognition system for local police departments to use, after the Interior Ministry was granted 2.8 million kuna (US$410,000) to speed up suspect identification, the Dubrovnik Times reports.

A tender for the biometric system was launched in October, and police and two intelligence agencies in the country already have legal access to footage from all surveillance cameras, according to the article, including nearly 500 public cameras, both fixed and mobile, around the capital Zagreb.

The use of facial recognition by Scottish Police, in the absence of sufficient legal frameworks and oversight, is among a long list of concerns raised by a Scottish Human Rights Commission’s report to the UN, writes Scottish Legal.

The report covers the country’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

“We remain concerned that police use of new technologies such as ‘cyber kiosks’ and facial recognition is outstripping the adequate protection for people’s rights required from our legal frameworks and oversight mechanisms,” says commission chair Judith Robertson.

Facial recognition extensively used in rescue of thousands of children

The sixth Operation Smile action by police in India’s Telangana State has resulted in the rescue of up to 3,600 children, 677 of them young girls, Telangana Today reports. The month-long operation involved extensive use of biometric facial recognition apps, such as the state police’ Darpan. The app was used to enroll 855 missing or traced children in January, according to the report.

More than 1,300 of the children were rescued from bonded labor, according to police, and more than 1,900 street children were taken into care. Nearly 2,000 children were returned to their families.

Training for Operation Smile teams included a presentation on the facial recognition features of the Telangana Police Service’s app and other digital tools, as well as explanations of the procedures outside of standard operating procedures and relevant laws for the mission.

Meanwhile, one of the companies vying for the IBM Watson AI XPrize and its $5 million prize is Marinus Analytics, which works with law enforcement to help them identify and recover victims of sex trafficking, according to a profile in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Marinus is now planning to move into identification for large-scale organized crime investigations.

The company is preparing to launch an AI service to help customers comb through the large amounts of data already available to them more efficiently.

“With the click of a button, they can see a pattern or be alerted to that pattern, whereas with the previous methods they would have to piece together these pieces almost manually,” Marinus Analytics President and Co-founder Emily Kennedy told the Post-Gazette. “The goal is to reduce that time and increase the amount of cases they can do and enable small agencies to be able to approach these cases.”

Marinus Analytics has raised $150,000 in funding, receiving support from the National Science Foundation, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (or DARPA), and the Bank of New York Mellon Corp., the Post-Gazette reports.

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