Seattle PD Detective Took Clearview Facial Recognition Tech For A Spin, Possibly Violating Local Laws

from the when-any-hit-is-considered-a-success,-no-matter-how-many-misses-were-generated dept

It looks like some members of the Seattle Police Department have taken an interest in Clearview. Clearview scrapes photos and data from the open web and sells access to its untested facial recognition AI to government agencies, private companies, and the odd billionaire. According to Clearview, it has 4 billion scraped records in its database. What it doesn’t have is a proven law enforcement track record for solving crimes, despite making extremely forward overtures to hundreds of law enforcement agencies around the globe.

Records [PDF] obtained by Bridget Brulolo of the Bridge Burner Collective show at least one Seattle PD investigator obtained access to this software and tried it out. This off-the-books test run may have broken a local law.

According to records recently released by the Seattle Police Department (SPD), a detective working for SPD signed up for and used facial recognition app Clearview AI, which appears to be in violation of the City of Seattle’s Surveillance Ordinance.


Released emails indicate that Nick Kartes, a detective on the South Precinct Burglary unit according to a staff roster obtained this summer, signed up for Clearview in September 2019 using his “” work email address.

The emails show Nick Kartes took the software for a spin at least 30 times, using Seattle government computers to do so. He also downloaded the app to his phone and claimed to have “done some experimenting with it.” It’s unclear whether these “experiments” were related to Kartes’ burglary investigations, but it must be said Clearview encourages government employees to “experiment” with the software using friends, family members, and random individuals as unwitting test subjects.

In fact, we’ll just let Clearview say it, because this encouragement to “experiment” is included in one of the emails. [Emphasis in the original.]

Here are three important tips for using Clearview:

1. Search a lot. Your Clearview account has unlimited searches. Don’t stop at one search. See if you can reach 100 searches. It’s a numbers game. Our database is always expanding and you never know when a photo will turn up a lead. Take a selfie with Clearview or search a celebrity to see how powerful the technology can be.

This was followed up with another unproven assertion that encourages users to just feed photo after photo into the system.

Investigators who do 100+ Clearview searches have the best chances of successfully solving crimes with Clearview from our experience.


The more searches, the more matches. It’s a numbers game. The investigators who search the most are the investigators that solve the most cases.

Yes, Clearview clearly advocates for responsible use of its tech to search its database of scraped images. Just feed faces into the portal or app and go wild. Fuck the consequences. Just imagine yourself solving crime after crime using this unproven AI. Bathe in the warm glow of being on the side of law and order as you prowl through the personal data of non-suspects.

Clearview’s pitches sound like a mass mailing firm. “It’s a numbers game.” Given enough attempts, investigators are pretty much guaranteed to stumble across a usable lead. This ignores all the dead ends caused by false positives and false negatives. It also ignores the damage law enforcement can do with a handful of bad leads generated by “it’s a numbers game” AI. Lives can be destroyed or severely disrupted. The innocent can be imprisoned. And all because a highly questionable facial recognition company that openly advocates for unethical use of its unethical scraped database says that’s the best way to solve crimes.

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Companies: clearview, clearview ai

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Comments on “Seattle PD Detective Took Clearview Facial Recognition Tech For A Spin, Possibly Violating Local Laws”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Law Enforcement

This off-the-books test run may have broken a local law.

14.18.070 – Enforcement

A. The CTO shall direct any department not in compliance with the requirements of this Chapter 14.18 to cease acquisition or use of the surveillance technology or its data.

B. Any person who is surveilled and injured by a material violation of this Chapter 14.18 that is a proximate cause of the injury may institute proceedings against the City in a court of competent jurisdiction for injunctive relief, declaratory relief, or a writ of mandate .  . .

DannyB (profile) says:

Is it breaking the law?

I heard once that if the president does something, then it cannot be illegal because the president did it.

Now extend that to law enforcement. If they do something, then it must somehow be legal by the very fact that they did it.

To suggest otherwise would imply that it is possible for them to actually break the law. And they could be held accountable. Somehow that just doesn’t seem possible that authorities could break the law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Once upon a time... [was Is it breaking the law?]

I heard once…

  • On August 9, 1974, Richard Milhous Nixon resigned the office of the President of the United States. He had been the 37th president.
  • On September 8, 1974, his successor in office, President Ford, issed Presidential Proclamation 4311, which granted pardon to ex-President Nixon.

“In 1977, former president Richard Nixon agreed to be interviewed by British journalist David Frost for recordings broadcast on television.”

Transcript of David Frost’s Interview with Richard Nixon

Nixon: Well, when the president does it … that means that it is not illegal.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Once upon a time... [was Is it breaking the law?]

No one is above the law, not even the president. Breaking the law is still illegal for a sitting president but the president cannot be prosecuted while still in office. They can be impeached or pressured to resign but prosecution has to wait until they are out of office.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Once upon a time... [was Is it breaking the law?]

… but the president cannot be prosecuted while still in office

That, of course, is fairly-recently debated still-open question. It is an unresolved controversy.

Professor Larry Tribe, in “Yes, the Constitution Allows Indictment of the President”, has argued:

Nearly everyone concedes that any such policy would have to permit exceptions. The familiar hypothetical of a president who shoots and kills someone in plain view clinches the point. Surely, there must be an exception for that kind of case…

Perhaps it is just plainly obvious to everyone here — that you yourself subscribe to the Office of Legal Counsel’s policy preference in the continuing argument.

It is a simple fact that the United States Supreme Court has not yet settled the point of law.

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