Clearview AI sought every US mugshot from past 15 years, Vermont sues over web-scraping

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Clearview AI has sought every mugshot from across America to augment the billions of images it scraped from social media sites and other internet sources for use in biometric facial recognition, an email seen by OneZero shows.

An employee of the company told a Green Bay Police Department representative that it was seeking to integrate every U.S. mugshot from the past 15 years within a few months. The department had expressed interest in uploading its mugshots to Clearview to run searches against. Other emails show the company used online sources, such as Rapsheets.org and Arrests.org to build its database of faces.

OneZero reports that it is unclear if Clearview was successful in its attempt to acquire the last 15 years worth of mugshots nationally. It is also unclear if the company launched the “gallery” feature referred to in the emails.

A representative for Green Bay Police said the force did not upload its images, though an email from Clearview offers a call with the company’s product and engineering team to discuss uploading them for free. The email also shows a clear disclaimer from the company that its product gives indicative rather than definitive matches, and that law enforcement customers “MUST (sic) conduct further research in order to verify identities or other data generated by the Clearview AI system.”

The FBI currently holds 30 million mug shots, and Vigilant is known to have compiled 15 million in a database from public sources, the article notes.

Clearview violated Vermont’s Consumer Protection Act and a new law that applies to data brokers when it scraped images of state residents, including children, from social media platforms, according to allegations in a new lawsuit reported by The Hour.

“I am disturbed by this practice, particularly the practice of collecting and selling children’s facial recognition data,” Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan said in a written statement. “This practice is unscrupulous, unethical, and contrary to public policy.”

The state has also asked for an injunction against continued collection of Vermonter’s images and biometric data.

Miami Police Assistant Chief Armando Aguilar discussed his department’s use of both FACES and Clearview for biometric matching, and how they are different, with area outlet Local 10.

The FACES system is operated by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department, and holds about 22 million mugshot and driver’s license photos, Aguilar says. Clearview’s database is in stark contrast to that, according to Aguilar.

“The database that they maintain is like nothing we’ve ever seen” he told Local 10.

The Assistant Chief explained how the technology works, and said that in testing, Clearview has been used to identify more than 10 suspects in several felony cases.

“We’re actually going to be hosting several community meetings and reaching out to our stakeholder such as the ACLU and other groups that we really want to get feedback from, as far as informing sound policy on the use of this software,” Aguilar explains.

He notes that facial biometrics matches are not used to establish probable cause, but rather to find leads. Aguilar expressed a desire on the part of the force to know the community’s concerns, and said it is important that the technology is used responsibly.

“The use of this technology is going to be seriously monitored and audited every month,” he says.

Canada’s federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are likewise continuing to use Clearview, but will now do so only “in very limited and specific circumstances,” CBC reports, just weeks after the country’s Privacy Commissioner announced the launch of an investigation into Clearview’s practices.

“In the interim, given the sensitivities surrounding facial recognition technology, we will only be using it in very limited and specific circumstances,” a spokesperson told CBC in an email. “The RCMP will only use facial recognition technology, including Clearview AI, in exigent circumstances for victim identification in child sexual exploitation investigations, or in circumstances where threat to life or grievous bodily harm may be imminent.”

Six trial licenses are in use by the force.

The New Democratic Party (NDP), an opposition party, called for a moratorium on the use of Clearview AI n public places, whether by public or private sector organizations.

Clearview AI Counsel Tor Ekeland told Coindesk in a recent interview that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which may be used to prosecute the company, is obsolete and so vague as to be meaningless. He also says common law has never recognized a right to privacy for facial images.

His claim that the First Amendment protects access to and use of biometric data requires biometric matching of someone else to be interpreted as an act of “free speech,” likely a harder case to make.
The interview provides a source of potential insight into how Clearview judges its own responsibilities.

Those responsibilities, as outlined in its website, include making the technology “available only for law enforcement agencies and select security professionals to use as an investigative tool,” but as the New York Times reports, potential investors, and in at least one case their children, have been using it as a personal tool for more than a year.

The Times says the app was used by wealthy people who were granted logins as part of an investment pitch to remind them of people’s names or to find look-alikes, which are difficult use cases to reconcile with what Clearview’s website describes as “built-in safeguards to ensure these trained professionals only use it for its intended purpose: to help identify the perpetrators and victims of crimes.”

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