Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That admitted that the company scraped 30 billion photos from Facebook and other social media platforms and used them in its massive facial recognition database accessible by law enforcement agencies across the U.S. Critics call the company’s database a “perpetual police lineup.”
This is an example of the growing cooperation between private companies and government agencies in the ever-growing U.S. surveillance state.
The photos were collected from social media platforms without users’ permission or knowledge.
Clearview AI markets its facial recognition database as a tool allowing law enforcement to rapidly generate leads “to help identify suspects, witnesses and victims to close cases faster and keep communities safe.” According to Ton-That, law enforcement agencies across the U.S. have accessed the company’s database over 1 million times since 2017.
According to a CNN report last year, more than 3,100 U.S. agencies use Clearview AI, including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.
In a statement, Ton-That said, “Clearview AI’s database of publicly available images is lawfully collected, just like any other search engine like Google.”
While photo scraping might be legal, Facebook sent Clearview AI a cease and desist order in 2020 for violation of the platform’s terms of service. In an email to Insider, a Meta spokesperson said, “Clearview AI’s actions invade people’s privacy, which is why we banned their founder from our services and sent them a legal demand to stop accessing any data, photos, or videos from our services.”
Fight for the Future director of campaigns Caitlin Seeley George called Clearview “a total affront to peoples’ rights, full stop,” and said, “Police should not be able to use this tool.”
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