LAPD bans the use of Clearview's controversial facial recognition software

Officers will be able to use the Los Angeles County system and nothing else.

Mel Melcon via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has reportedly banned the use of third-party facial recognition services including the controversial Clearview AI. Buzzfeed News reports that the ban was enacted on November 13th after reporters showed officials evidence of LAPD officers using Clearview. In a statement, Deputy Police chief John McMahon is said to have told officers that they cannot use “third-party commercial facial recognition services” that use “non-criminal source images.”

Clearview AI is a notorious company famous for scraping images from social media and other platforms to create an enormous facial recognition database. When the social platforms learned about Clearview’s practices, they issued cease-and-desist letters banning them from doing so in future. Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That disagreed, saying that his company had a first-amendment right to take social media data. The Peter Thiel-backed company has made several overtures to law enforcement agencies worldwide.

A number of police bodies have signed up to use the service, including Chicago’s Police Department and, more famously, London’s Metropolitan Police. In the latter example, the Met said that it would use the technology to identify suspects in real-time, using the city’s extensive network of CCTV. There are a number of concerns about both the privacy, data security and racial bias implications inherent in these systems, especially when there is a high risk of being wrongfully arrested.

The moratorium is not a ban on all facial recognition systems, just those not authorized by the LAPD, which has its own, in-house platform. Officers can still use the Los Angeles County Regional Identification System (LACRIS), which uses booking photos for its model, and access is limited to specific officers. LAPD officials also told Buzzfeed that the department would be outlining a more comprehensive policy regarding facial recognition systems in the near future.