Hundreds of agencies are using a system which scraped billions of photos from the internet

Facial RecognitionIllustration by James Bareham / The Verge

Hundreds of law enforcement agencies across the US have started using a new facial recognition system from Clearview AI, a new investigation by The New York Times has revealed. The database is made up of billions of images scraped from millions of sites including Facebook, YouTube, and Venmo. The Times says that Clearview AI’s work could “end privacy as we know it,” and the piece is well worth a read in its entirety.

The use of facial recognition systems by police is already a growing concern, but the scale of Clearview AI’s database, not to mention the methods it used to assemble it, is particularly troubling. The Clearview system is built upon a database of over three billion images scraped from the internet, a process which may have violated websites’ terms of service. Law enforcement agencies can upload photos of any persons of interest from their cases, and the system returns matching pictures from the internet, along with links to where these images are hosted, such as social media profiles.

The NYT says the system has already helped police solve crimes including shoplifting, identify theft, credit card fraud, murder, and child sexual exploitation. In one instance, Indiana State Police were able to solve a case within 20 minutes by using the app.

The use of facial recognition algorithms by police carry risks. False positives can incriminate the wrong people, and privacy advocates fear their use could help to create a police surveillance state. Police departments have reportedly used doctored images that could lead to wrongful arrests, and a federal study has uncovered “empirical evidence” of bias in facial recognition systems(

Posted by The non-Conformist