Clearview facial recognition used to exonerate suspect on trial over traffic fatality
In what its CEO calls a move to “balance the scales of justice,” facial recognition company Clearview AI gave defense attorneys in a vehicular homicide case access to its technology—and helped the defendant, who was innocent, avoid the slammer.
Up until recently, Clearview’s clientele has been limited to police and law enforcement agencies. But the controversial firm agreed to let lawyers for Florida man Andrew Grantt Conlyn scan their huge database of images scraped from the web, to prove Conlyn’s innocence in a 2017 car crash in Fort Myers. Prosecutors claimed Conlyn was driving the Ford Mustang that rammed into a light post and several trees, killing his friend. But body camera footage from the scene showed a man in an orange vest who had pulled Conlyn from the car, insisting that Conlyn was a passenger in the vehicle, and that his friend had been driving.
Conlyn’s legal team spent years trying to locate the man, without success. In June 2022, they contacted Clearview chief executive Hoan Ton-That about trying facial recognition. The CEO agreed, on the condition that, if it worked, Conlyn would speak about it to the media.
According to the New York Times, using Clearview’s facial recognition, Conlyn’s team found matches for the body cam footage “within two seconds.” It took just a few phone calls to locate the mysterious vest man. Vincent Ramirez had moved to northern Florida—but he remembered pulling Andrew Grantt Conlyn out of the passenger seat. Within hours of Ramirez’s deposition to the court, charges against Conlyn were dropped. Justice, it seemed, was served.
Still, some biometrics and AI observers have thrown doubt on Clearview’s motivations. Hoan Ton-That has gone out of his way to paint the company as a force for good — even as it faces bans in several countries and takes heat for its close ties to police and the military.
Speaking to the Times, Jumana Musa, a surveillance expert for the National Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers, said Conlyn’s case “is not going to wipe away the ethical concerns about the way in which (Clearview) went about building this tool.”
Clearview has built the new service, JusticeClearview, from the original law enforcement tool, specifically for public defenders. The company says its new service is victim-centric, bias free, and ensures criminal defense teams are equipped with the same information as the prosecution.