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Seattle police officer’s use of Clearview AI face biometrics may have violated city policy

The company is not on the council’s list of approved technologies


Controversial facial recognition company Clearview AI and Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers exchanged hundreds of emails in which police were encouraged to use the service for law enforcement purposes, Publicola reports.

According to the website, public outrage surrounding Clearview AI’s questionable methods of information gathering sparked the interest of Seattle blogger Bridget Brululo.

Brululo then submitted a public records request to SPD in June to determine whether SPD officers were in fact using the service. The request was answered earlier this month, together with around 200 emails mentioning the keywords “Clearview AI.”

While the majority of the messages were promotional emails from the company, evidence emerged showing that one officer, namely Detective Nicholas Kartes of the South Precinct’s burglary unit, had in fact created an account with Clearview AI in 2019.

Whether Kartes has been using the biometric service for surveillance purposes or not is unclear from the emails, but the officer did sign up for the service with his work email.

One email dated September 30, 2019, in particular, shows an exchange with a Clearview AI representative called Jack M in which the company seems to be instructing Kartes on how to use the service for work-related purposes.

The message ends with a greeting from Jack saying “Good luck with your investigations!”

Another email dated September 27, 2019, encourages the officer to use the service, claiming that “Investigators who do 100+ Clearview searches have the best chances of successfully solving crimes with Clearview.”

From a legal standpoint, SPD officers are not allowed to use Clearview AI for law enforcement purposes, since the software is not on the council’s list of approved technologies.

As pointed out by Publicola, however, the ordinance does not address the use of surveillance technology by individual officers, but the department as a whole.

This would leave the investigation on Kartes in the hands of the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), which told Publicola the act of creating an account with Clearview AI might not constitute a policy violation in itself. The OPA investigation will now proceed to try and establish whether the officer has used Clearview AI’s facial recognition capabilities for law enforcement purposes, which would violate city policy, or not. Doing so may require access to records only held by Clearview.

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