US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Justice, the FBI, Macy’s, and Best Buy are among the thousands of government agencies and private companies using the software of facial recognition company Clearview AI, according to a leaked client list obtained exclusively by BuzzFeed News.
The controversial company’s database, which includes more than 3 billion images scraped from social media and other sites, is aimed at helping law enforcement catch persons of interest, as first reported by The New York Times last month. According to the Times investigation, Clearview AI’s tools could identify people from the scraped images, revealing their names, where they lived, and other personal information.
But numerous companies have strenuously objected to Clearview AI scraping their images for its database. Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn all have sent cease and desist letters to the company, and Facebook demanded the company “stop accessing or using information from Facebook or Instagram.” Some police departments have distanced themselves from Clearview AI, with the NYPD saying that it has no formal relationship with the company and New Jersey’s attorney general putting a moratorium on the use of Clearview AI’s software.
Police departments on college campuses also are among the entities using Clearview AI’s software, sometimes without the knowledge of school officials, according to BuzzFeed News.
The use of Clearview AI’s technology has not been confined to the US. Interpol and a sovereign wealth fund in the United Arab Emirates also are on the client list in BuzzFeed’s reporting, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said on Thursday that its National Child Exploitation Crime Centre “has been using and evaluating Clearview AI’s software for approximately four months for online child sexual exploitation investigations.” It used the software successfully in 15 cases, the RCMP says, leading to the rescue of two children.
Clearview AI’s CEO Hoan Ton-That has said the company has a right to use the data it has scraped since it is publicly available. The company says its software is “not a consumer application” and not available to the general public. That has not reassured some members of Congress, however; Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), sent a letter to Ton-That on January 23rd demanding that the company provide details about its practices and technology.
Among the questions Markey wants answered: which law enforcement agencies Clearview is working with, the results of any internal bias and accuracy tests, whether Clearview plans to market its technology to non-law enforcement entities, and how it protects children’s privacy protections.
“Clearview’s product appears to pose particularly chilling privacy risks, and I am deeply concerned that it is capable of fundamentally dismantling Americans’ expectation that they can move, assemble, or simply appear in public without being identified,” Markey’s letter read.