Clearview Is Handing Out Access To Dozens Of UK Entities, Setting Up Accounts For Congressional Reps

from the mass-marketing-privacy-violations dept

Clearview continues to make itself unpopular with the general public even as it increases its user base. Supposedly, it has worked with over 900 law enforcement agencies at this point, although it's unclear how many are actually using the software and how many have just been given trial logins.

Internal documents given to BuzzFeed show a number of federal agencies (FBI, ATF, Secret Service, CBP) have performed tens of thousands of searches of Clearview's scraped-together database. But it's not just law enforcement agencies that are using Clearview's facial recognition app. The documents showed a number of private companies have also at least test-driven the software, including Macy's, Walmart, Kohl's, and Albertsons.

The company continues to expand into other countries. The documents show Clearview has customers in 26 countries, including notorious human rights violators like Saudi Arabia and UAE.

Over in the UK, Clearview is being used by more public and private entities -- another strange assortment of users that makes up a small part of the 2,900 institutions the company has handed its software to.

The National Crime Agency and Metropolitan Police are among a number of leading organisations across the UK that have registered users with controversial facial recognition technology firm Clearview AI, according to documents reviewed by BuzzFeed News.

The technology also had users at a number of other police forces, private investment firms, the Ministry of Defence, and a charity founded by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, the data shows.

The Met Police already has its own facial recognition tech -- one that has consistently underperformed for years. According to a spokesperson, Clearview's proprietary database of 3 billion photos scraped from the web isn't being used in conjunction with the live tech already deployed by the agency. Other UK law enforcement agencies listed in the documents as having performed searches all stated they had used the software "on a trial basis" and are not currently using the tech to search for criminal suspects.

The same comments were made by some private financial firms, which claimed it was demoed for them by Clearview, but they weren't currently using the software. A few refused to provide any comment at all, leaving that question open.

The searches run by J.K. Rowling's charity also appear to have been part of a demo.

The charity told BuzzFeed News that a staff member had tried out the software once at an event and Clearview was not being used by Lumos in its work.

A spokesperson for Lumos said: “A member of Lumos staff attended an anti-trafficking event last year to which a number of NGOs were invited as well as a representative from Clearview AI.

“During the event the representative from Clearview AI demonstrated the software which we understand was being used in the US by law enforcement to tackle child exploitation.

Back in the United States, Clearview continues its aggressive expansion, preemptively creating accounts for Congressional reps and administration officials.

Clearview AI, the secretive facial recognition company whose software has been used by more than 2,200 organizations around the world, created accounts for the offices of four members of Congress, including one whom President Donald Trump is nominating for director of national intelligence.

Clearview data reviewed by BuzzFeed News includes an unused account for Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe, a Republican whose eventual nomination to DNI was announced by Trump on Friday via tweet. Trump has yet to formally send the nomination to the Senate.

In Clearview documents viewed by BuzzFeed News, the entry for “Congressman John Ratcliffe Staff” indicates that that user had performed zero log-ins and zero searches, meaning that Clearview had created an account that was never used. A spokesperson for Ratcliffe told BuzzFeed News that Clearview staff had met with Ratcliffe’s staff.

All of these appear to have been set up when staffers met with Clearview reps. Only one rep's office -- Mark Walker's -- appears to have run any searches.

In other news on the homefront, Apple has disabled Clearview's iOS app for violating the company's rules on distribution.

In distributing its app for Apple devices, Clearview, which BuzzFeed News reported earlier this week has been used by more than 2,200 public and private entities including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the FBI, Macy’s, Walmart, and the NBA, has been sidestepping the Apple App Store, encouraging those who want to use the software to download its app through a program reserved exclusively for developers. In response to an inquiry from BuzzFeed News, Apple investigated and suspended the developer account associated with Clearview, effectively preventing the iOS app from operating.

The company's CEO says it's working with Apple to get the app reinstated, claiming Clearview did not actually violate the rules since the app cannot be used without "proper authorization." But that doesn't explain why Clearview is demoing its "internal use application" to hundreds of potential customers and facilitating that access by setting up accounts for anyone who wants to try the app out. Apple's Enterprise Developer program forbids the distribution of internal apps to users outside of the developer's company.

If Clearview stays ousted, it's going to hurt its plans for expansion. One of the selling points of Clearview's tech is that it's available in app form -- portable and usable by anyone who owns a smartphone. Linking the app to 3 billion face photos and other personal information scraped from the web makes it almost irresistible. Taking a sizable chunk of phone users out of the equation will slow the company's roll. But I imagine it will find a way to get some version of its app back into the store -- and into the hands of uncurated user base.  

Filed Under: facial recognition, uk
Companies: clearview, clearview ai


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Mar 2020 @ 10:46pm

    Has anyone seen the TV interview with the Clearview guy yet? I wish i knew what the show was. He seems like a pretty slick character.

    There's this, but i swear i saw something else as well:
    https://www.cbsnews.com/video/ceo-speaks-out-about-clearview-ais-controversial-facial-recognit ion-technology/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2020 @ 1:39am

      Re:

      He says he has a first amendment right to this scaped data, this may be so in the States, but how does this cope with the GDPR laws in Europe?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2020 @ 6:38am

        Re: Re:

        He says he has a first amendment right to this scaped data

        He doesn't. The first amendment has nothing to do with private entities. It only prevents the US government from interfering with the political speech of a citizen.

        If anything he's attempting to use the guise of free speech to say that the data he's bought off of scrapers and data miners on a very ethically questionable grey market is "political speech" and therefore untouchable. Of course this claim is complete and utter BS. Again, the only way you can even try to claim it as "political speech", on an individual basis mind you, would be to claim said collected data as facts about other people, and that has it's own problems.

        I doubt his company has vetted that data thoroughly for accuracy. Which means he's ripe for a libel lawsuit. Worse, because there's other entities involved solely for the purpose of data mining, you have conspiracy charges as well. Add to that some of the data collected was probably done without the knowledge or consent of the person that it's about, and you have illegal search and seizure, and because he's involving the government specifically for the purposes of law enforcement there's a risk that any agency using his company's data could have it's entire case thrown out on both 4th and 5th amendment charges.

        If I were a prosecutor, I'd steer clear of his company and it's offerings. Sure it's tempting, in a god-complex sort of way, but he's ruffled too many feathers as is. The public will come down hard on him and his company, as well as anyone in law enforcement who supported him. Sure there will be another company that will spring right back up, but his company's greed has proven itself to be a danger to the public. The first rule of surveillance is to not let them know you're watching, and he's violated that rule numerous times. He and his company will fall. The real question is which company would law enforcement turn to for it's data collection besides Clearview?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2020 @ 10:08am

          Re: Re: Re:

          It only prevents the US government from interfering with the political speech of a citizen.

          That just isn't true. Quoting the court from one of yesterday's stories for example: 'Public commentary about sports, some have said, is no less protected than commentary about “economics [or] politics.” … That sports coverage implicates public concerns is “amply demonstrated by the elaborate sports section in every daily newspaper published in this nation” and by the “numerous periodicals . . . exclusively devoted to sports.” Time, Inc. v. Johnson, 448 F.2d 378, 383 (4th Cir 1971).'

          Rights to photography have been upheld under the 1st amendment too.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2020 @ 8:17am

    Once they finally figure out that real facial recognition is difficult and requires tight control of the surrounding lighting environment, they may start demanding really weird things. For example, they may demand that people not wear any makeup. They already tell you to remove your hat/hoodie/etc. I guess that it would be easier if everyone had the same haircut, lets all start to look like donald.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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