Thousands of US government agencies are using Clearview AI without approval

Buzzfeed News says it has a database of 1,803 public bodies in the US that used the tool.

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Nearly two thousand government bodies, including police departments and public schools, have been using Clearview AI without oversight. Buzzfeed News reports that employees from 1,803 public bodies used the controversial facial-recognition platform without authorization from bosses. Reporters contacted a number of agency heads, many of which said they were unaware their employees were accessing the system.

A database of searches, outlining which agencies were able to access the platform, and how many queries were made, was leaked to Buzzfeed by an anonymous source. It has published a version of the database online, enabling you to examine how many times each department has used the tool. Clearview AI refused to authenticate the validity of the data, and reportedly refused to engage with questions about the leak.

Clearview AI, founded by Hoan Ton-That, markets itself as a searchable facial-recognition database for law enforcement agencies. The New York Times has previously reported on Ton-That’s close association with notorious figures from the far right, and the company is backed by early Facebook investor Peter Thiel. The company’s USP has been to download every image posted to social media without permission to build its database — something the social media companies in question have tried to stop. The company is currently under investigation in both the UK and Australia for its data-collection practices.

The report — which you should read in its entirety — outlines how Clearview has offered generous free trials to individual employees at public bodies. This approach is meant to encourage these employees to incorporate the system into their working day, and advocate for their agencies to sign up. But there are a number of civil liberties, privacy, legal and accuracy questions that remain in the air as to how Clearview operates. This has not deterred agencies like ICE, however, from signing up to use the system, although other agencies, like the LAPD, have already banned use of the platform.