Law Enforcement Officials Confirm Clearview's Facial Recognition Tech Is Mostly Useless
from the well,-you-get-what-you-pay-for... dept
A stash of public records recently obtained by BuzzFeed shows far more law enforcement agencies have experimented with Clearview’s facial recognition software than previously acknowledged. The searchable data shows Clearview is still something law enforcement is interested in experimenting with. And there’s probably more to this story, given that nearly 1,200 agencies refused to respond to BuzzFeed’s requests.
Clearview boasts something most other facial recognition tech companies can’t: billions of images and a host of other personal info attached to those images. Unlike other databases that usually draw from public records like mugshot databases and DMV files, Clearview scrapes the web to compile its database, pulling photos and other info from the billions of public posts/accounts hosted by platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
As the amount of input increases, so does the margin of error. But Clearview routinely overstates its accuracy. Last year, it claimed it “passed” the ACLU’s facial recognition test. The ACLU disputed this claim, pointing out Clearview had not actually run the test as designed and that its software used things not commonly used by law enforcement, like clear photos and a database full of scraped images and personal info. Clearview’s ability to properly recognize photos of senators and Congressional reps wasn’t a sign of success, but rather the end result of playing with a loaded deck that linked clear, high-quality photos to Congressmembers’ social media accounts and official websites.
But the experimentation continues, urged on by Clearview’s baseless claims of miraculous facial recognition technology. Jake Laperruque — writing for the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) — points out the company has routinely overstated the tech’s effectiveness.
Clearview AI’s pitches to law enforcement disclosed in public records requests are shockingly boastful. The company claims to have “the most accurate facial identification software worldwide” and to consistently produce accurate results “in less than five seconds.” The company even goes so far as to tell police that using its software will make them “realize you were the crazy one” for not believing face recognition would perform the same as it does in outlandish TV depictions like “NCIS, CSI, Blue Bloods.”
You can make these outlandish claims when you’re not willing to submit your tech to examination by outside experts. Sure, you can make them. But you shouldn’t expect people to believe them. All the free passes handed out to law enforcement officers haven’t resulted in a showering of accolades and a bunch of closed cases. First-hand experiences reported to BuzzFeed show law enforcement remains unimpressed with Clearview’s product. Here are just a few of the damning quotes compiled by POGO:
“Photos entered were of known individuals, including themselves and family members. The software did not yield accurate results and they ceased using it prior to the end of the 30 day trial period.” —Kathy Ferrell, public information officer, Smyrna Police Department
“We didn’t find it to be very useful so we stopped using it. Half the searches were on us to see what it would pull up. We were getting very poor results.” —Barry Wilkerson, police chief, St. Matthews Police Department
“We had one detective who had access two or three years ago after attending a social media investigation course. He said he used it several times but was never successful in finding accurate matches and discontinued its use.” —Brian Gulsby, spokesperson, Daphne Police Department
Despite this, Clearview continues to overstate its accuracy. Its pitches remain aggressive and highly imaginative. The reality, however, is still disappointing. And that is reflected in its internal memos, which acknowledge the limitations that affect all facial recognition tech also affect Clearview’s product. The only “advantage” it has is a database containing more than a billion scraped photos.
But bigger doesn’t mean better. And it sure as shit doesn’t mean more accurate, as law enforcement officers who’ve test driven the product can attest. All it means is Clearview is trying to turn its internet Xerox into the go-to product for rights violations.