THE STATEN ISLAND district attorney’s use of the highly controversial Clearview face recognition system included attempts to dig up the social media accounts of homicide victims and was paid for with equally controversial asset forfeiture cash, according to city records provided to The Intercept.
Clearview has garnered international attention and intense criticism for its simple premise: What if you could instantly identify anyone in the world with only their picture? Using billions of images scraped from social media sites, Clearview sells police and other governmental agencies the ability to match a photo to a name using face recognition, no search warrant required — a power civil libertarians and privacy advocates say simply places too much unsupervised power in the hands of police.
The use of Clearview by the Staten Island district attorney’s office was first reported by Gothamist, citing city records obtained by the Legal Aid Society. Subsequent records procured via New York State Freedom of Information Law request and provided to The Intercept now confirm the initial concerns about the tool’s largely unsupervised use by prosecutors. According to spokesperson Ryan Lavis, the DA’s office “completely stopped utilizing Clearview as an investigative tool last year.”
Yet the documents provide new information about how Staten Island prosecutors used the notorious face recognition tool and show that the software was paid for with funds furnished by the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program. The program lets state and local police hand seized cash and property over to a federal law enforcement agency, whereupon up to 80 percent of the proceeds are then sent back the original state or local department to pocket.