Clearview AI biometrics searches spike as police work to identify Capitol rioters
Alabama’s Oxford city police department is among U.S. law enforcement departments using Clearview AI’s controversial biometric facial recognition software to identify people who were present or took part in the Capitol riots last week. CEO of Clearview, Hoan Ton-That has said that public unrest involving crimes, including the Capitol riot, have spurred law enforcement interest in the technology.
Ton-That told The New York Times that searches on Clearview increased by 26 percent over normal weekday volumes following the riot. The Times reports Miami Police are also using the biometric service, while CBS reports that a Canadian researcher has used facial recognition along with analysis of patches on clothing to identify a rioter spotted carrying plastic restraints.
“I was able to develop…some pretty good suspect leads, and forwarded those,” said Sgt. Jason Webb, a police officer for Oxford, who has been finding photo matches from the riots using Clearview. “And I’m still working on continuing to forward leads to my point of contact with the FBI.”
Webb said he would only forward information to the FBI that was accompanied by a name or other identifiers, such as online profiles.
The American Civil Liberties Union has previously raised concern with Clearview’s privacy policies, which, the ACLU states, violate various laws in the U.S. through the collection of information and images without the individual’s consent.
Clearview has a database of over 3 billion photos retrieved from all over the web (Ton-That maintains that the data which Clearview retrieves is already public) in use by approximately 2,400 U.S. law enforcement agencies, according to the company. Though the company has released new compliance features aimed at preventing abuse of the technology, some are still skeptical.
Clare Garvie, a researcher who studies facial recognition at the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law, highlights the lack of regulation surrounding the use of facial recognition software. “We’ve seen a lot of efforts in various parts of the country to bring face recognition under control,” she said. “But by and large, there are still no laws governing how and when this technology can be used, and who can run searches for whom.”
In response to last week’s riot, FedScoop reports the FBI has set up a portal where the public can submit videos and images that can be used to track down individuals who took part. The Bureau also runs a Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) biometric database. Law enforcement officials are needing to depend on the FBI’s technology to identify criminals via the many videos, images and other digital “fingerprints” in combination with open-source information. CEO of TrueFace, Shaun Moore says that videos from the riot could also be used to extract high-confidence identification.
The FBI has two facial recognition programs in its Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division; the Next Generation Identification (NGI) System and the Facial Analysis, Comparison, and Evaluation (FACE) Services Unit, according to congressional testimony in 2019; which can only be used for open-source investigations and internal assessments, according to Jake Laperruque, senior counsel at the Project for Government Oversight.