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Thousands of face biometrics searches without oversight enabled by Clearview market strategy

Number of paid contracts uncertain

facial-recognition-database

A searchable list of more than 1,800 public agencies with employees who used Clearview AI to search for people using face biometrics prior to February 2020 has been published by BuzzFeed News, which reports that over 7,000 different people from the public agencies used the app.

In addition to state and local police, the list of organizations includes state healthcare organizations and public schools.

BuzzFeed writes that in many of the cases, management was not aware the biometric technology was being used, and five organization’s leaders told the publication they would pause or ban its use when questioned about it. The list appears to be drawn largely from a breach of the company’s data last February.

When contacted, 335 of the organizations confirmed their use of Clearview, while 210 denied it, and 1,161 did not respond to inquiries about their use of the biometric search app. A significant number acknowledged the tool had been used by employees without the knowledge of those they report to, or the public.

Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That has claimed that 3,100 law enforcement agencies had used the app, as of March 2021.

Nearly 340,000 searches were performed by the users, though some of them seem to be demonstration or tests.

The Illinois secretary of state’s office ran close to 8,900 searches, telling BuzzFeed it had done so to assist other law enforcement agencies in investigations.

The responses from trial or production customers also include some reports of agencies trialling Clearview and then declining to pay for a license. One officer reports that it did not appear as accurate as advertised. An instructor at the Western Regional Counterdrug Training Center run by the Washington National Guard’s Counterdrug Program included Clearview in an officer training course, which has since been stripped of references to the controversial biometric technology.

Representatives of public agencies in every state except Vermont were found to have used Clearview.

Clearview began requiring managerial approval for trial uses of its biometric search capability in March of 2020, and updated its website to require case numbers just weeks ago.

Most of the confirmed uses of Clearview were on a trial basis, though Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and police officials from several forces described its use in “extraordinary” investigations. As of early 2020, 270 employees of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had registered accounts, but the agency did not have a contract with Clearview at the time. The market engagement strategy followed by Clearview of pitching individual officers on the tool’s benefits is popular among some software companies, BuzzFeed reports.

ICE signed a $224,000 contract with Clearview in August. Police in Fort Wayne, Indiana have a $4,000 annual contract, but are reconsidering it, according to the report.

BuzzFeed was told by 34 public entities that employees had been using Clearview without approval. Another 69 denied that their employees used it, before reversing their position.

The publication also reports that a test performed by a source with access to Clearview suggested higher rates of false positive matches for people of color, which the company did not respond to questions about.

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