LAPD Bans Facial Recognition, Citing Privacy Concerns

The department has said no thanks to the Clearview AI platform, after an expose showing that officers had used it 475 times during a trial period alone.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has banned the use of commercial facial-recognition services – citing “public trust” considerations.

The move comes in the wake of a report that showed that more than 25 employees of the department had performed 475 searches so far using the Clearview AI, an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered facial-recognition platform.

“It has come to the Department’s attention that a limited number of personnel have accessed commercial facial-recognition systems [like Clearview] for Department business,” Deputy Police Chief John McMahon wrote in a statement published by Buzzfeed. “Department personnel shall not use third-party commercial facial recognition services nor conduct facial-recognition searches on behalf of outside agencies.”

“Clearview grabs photos from all over the place, and that, from a department standpoint, raises public-trust concerns,” McMahon added.

At issue is the fact that Clearview uses photos from social media and other publicly available sources, without consent, in violation of what some say are basic privacy rights. Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Electronic Frontier Foundation have been loudly critical of facial recognition AI as a potential means of state surveillance.

Watchdog Groups Sue

ACLU has taken Clearview AI to court over privacy issues. Specifically, its complain alleges that the company’s massive database was amassed by collecting the biometric data of billions of people without their consent.

“[Clearview AI] has captured these faceprints in secret, without our knowledge, much less our consent, using everything from casual selfies to photos of birthday parties, college graduations, weddings and so much more,” ACLU staff attorney Nathan Freed Wessler wrote about the lawsuit last May.

“Unbeknownst to the public, this company has offered up this massive faceprint database to private companies, police, federal agencies and wealthy individuals, allowing them to secretly track and target whomever they wished using face-recognition technology.”

The move by LAPD to ban the use of Clearview will no doubt be viewed as a victory by such groups in the long-simmering debate over facial recognition.

Clearview Responds

This puts Clearview in a tricky spot. On Jan. 27, the company issued “The Clearview AI Code of Conduct” stating that its search engines are “available only to law-enforcement agencies and select security professionals.” It’s unclear what happens if banning the service from being used in law enforcement becomes more widespread.

“The LAPD had a trial of Clearview AI as have many other law-enforcement agencies around the country,” Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That said in a statement given to Threatpost. “Clearview AI is being used by over 2,400 law-enforcement agencies around the United States to help solve crimes such as murder, robbery and crimes against children to keep our communities safe.”

Federal Law Plays Catch-Up

Last August, a bill called the National Biometric Information Privacy Act was introduced in the Senate, which would extend those same biometric protections already passed in Illinois to the entire U.S.

But until the federal laws catch up, tech giants Microsoft, Amazon and IBM pledged last June not to sell facial recognition to police departments.

“We will not sell facial-recognition tech to police in the U.S. until there is a national law in place…We must pursue a national law to govern facial recognition grounded in the protection of human rights,” Microsoft president Brad Smith said about the announcement.

For his part, Clearview CEO Hoan defended his company’s practices.

“Clearview AI is proud to be the leader in facial-recognition technology, with new features like our intake form — whereby each search is annotated with a case number and a crime type to ensure responsible use, facial-recognition training programs and strong auditing features.”


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