KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) — New facial recognition technology being praised by law enforcement and harshly criticized by privacy advocates across the nation may be finding its way to the Kansas City metro.
The system is called Clearview AI and is an app-accessible database that lets officers plug in a picture of almost any person and find that person’s identity in seconds by combing the public internet, with a great focus on social media.
The Clearview AI technology scans publicly available images from the web and social media, analyzing facial data for unique markers and differentiators it can use to identify individuals. The more photographs of an identified face from a platform like Facebook, the more likely the system is to match an unidentified photo uploaded by officers.
With its heavy reliance on media from social platforms, it means that users of Twitter, Facebook and many other social networks are in the system. Those tech giants don’t like what Clearview AI is doing, claiming it violates the terms of service for their systems, with some even sending cease and desist letters.
The tech startup’s founder, Hoan Ton-That, told CNN in a recent interview that the technology isn’t creepy and can help police.
“I can understand people having concerns around privacy,” Ton-That said. “The reason and purpose we found is to really help law enforcement solve crimes.”
While the technology may seem like science fiction, it could soon be on the horizon where police can use an app on their phone and find identities in seconds. Some call that scenario the end of privacy.
Clearview AI claims that 600 departments across the country are using their app. KCTV5 News sent open records requests to some of the largest police departments in Kansas City area to see if any of them are using it.
KCTV5 News learned that the Kansas City Police Department is not using it. Officials with the KCK Police Department said not only that they aren’t using it, but neither officers nor the department IT staff had even heard of the system
It is clear other departments have heard of it, though, as KCTV5 News after requesting emails discussing Clearview AI, which are public records.
Overland Park police have 1,105 emails with the term “Clearview” department officials told KCTV5 News.
“The City of Overland Park Police Department does not have an official Clearview App account,” a statement from the department outlined. “Several of our officers have looked into the free trial period, in an effort to explore the potential for it to be used in solving crimes and missing person cases.”
Independence police are not using it, but they have emails discussing that technology.
The Lee’s Summit Police Department is using a free trial version, noting in a statement to KCTV5 News that they have, “been using a free trial version of ClearView AI for approximately 3 months now on a limited basis.” The department declined to sit down and discuss if they have solved crimes using the technology.
Many praise facial recognition technology as a game changer, leaving them with no more nameless suspects. But beyond privacy concerns, others question how well the technology really works.
A recent Washington Post article reviewed a federal study on facial recognition technology that concluded that Asian and African Americans were 100 times more likely to be misidentified. It’s even worse with Native Americans.
Former federal prosecutor turned criminal defense attorney John Osgood told KCTV5 News he was surprised to hear a system like Clearview AI is being used in Lee’s Summit, noting past controversies around similar technology.
“Apparently there's problems with misidentification, although they deny that. They claim their technology is 100% accurate, but, Amazon, tried it out, a year or two ago, and had significant misidentifications in there,” Osgood explained. “They ran it, they test against Congress of all things, and they misidentified some congressman.”
That stunt made big news, with the ACLU having a field day pointing out 28 members of congress who were wrongly matched to mugshots and misspelling the word “recognition” in their graphics to underscore that point. Missouri Representative Lacy Clay and Kansas Senator Pat Roberts were among those misidentified in the amazon facial recognition software.
Clearview AI promises it’s better that that mess. The ACLU challenged the company this week to independent rigorous testing. In the meantime, law enforcement agencies across the nation are using this technology because Clearview is pushing free trials.