The LAPD banned officers from using facial recognition technology which harvested images from social media by Clearview AI



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  • The Los Angeles Police Department banned the use of commercial facial recognition software after being confronted about its officers’ use of Clearview AI by BuzzFeed News, the outlet reported Tuesday.
  • BuzzFeed News reported that it had inquired about documents showing that “25 LAPD employees had performed nearly 475 searches using Clearview AI,” a controversial software that scrapes images from social media.
  • The LAPD has previously misrepresented how widely it has used facial recognition tech, while Clearview has come under fire over privacy issues and its reported connections to white nationalists.
  • Cities including San Francisco, Oakland, and Boston have banned government agencies from using facial recognition amid growing worries over racial and gender bias as well as civil liberties violations.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Los Angeles Police Department, the third-largest department in the US, issued a moratorium on its use of commercial facial recognition technology in response to inquiries from BuzzFeed News about its officers’ use of Clearview AI, the outlet reported Tuesday.

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“Department personnel shall not use third-party commercial facial recognition services or conduct facial recognition searches on behalf of outside agencies,” deputy police chief John McMahon told employees in a memo, according to BuzzFeed News, adding that Clearview and similar tools use “non-criminal source images.”

BuzzFeed News reported that McMahon issued the directive on November 13, after it inquired with the agency about documents that showed “more than 25 LAPD employees ran nearly 475 searches with Clearview AI over a three-month period beginning at the end of 2019.”

The department will still allow authorized employees to use the Los Angeles County Regional Identification System (LACRIS), a facial recognition platform operated by Los Angeles County that relies on technology from DataWorks Plus, according to The Los Angeles Times.

The LAPD did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Clearview has gained notoriety over its software, which it has powered in part by scraping billions of images from major web services such as Facebook, Google, and YouTube, and has sold to law enforcement agencies across the United States.

“Clearview grabs photos from all over the place, and that, from a department standpoint, raises public trust concerns,” McMahon wrote to employees, according to BuzzFeed News.

Both the LAPD and Clearview have come under fire over facial recognition technology as well as their public portrayals of how law enforcement officers and agencies have used it.

The LAPD has repeatedly misrepresented its use of facial recognition software. But The Los Angeles Times revealed in September that the department has used the technology nearly 30,000 times over the past decade.

“The LAPD had a trial of Clearview AI as have many other law enforcement agencies around the country. Clearview AI is being used by over 2,400 law enforcement agencies around the United States to help solve crimes such as murder, robbery, and crimes against children to keep our communities safe,” Clearview CEO and founder Hoan Ton-That told Business Insider in a statement, adding that the company has implemented features such as training programs and audits to “ensure responsible use” of the software.

But BuzzFeed News has previously reported that Clearview has at various times overstated its capabilities to law enforcement agencies and told them to “run wild” with searches of its face database and even encouraged them to search for friends and family.

Clearview has faced pushback, including legal challenges from regulators, proposed bans from lawmakers, and public outcry over Ton-That’s reported extensive ties to prominent far-right white nationalists.

There is also growing evidence that facial recognition tools may not be producing as accurate or useful results as its proponents claim. Multiple studies have shown that the software and algorithms behind such systems, including those used by the LAPD, are more likely to misidentify people based on their skin color and gender. At least one person has been wrongfully arrested by law enforcement after being misidentified.

In response to concerns about racial and gender bias as well as potential civil liberties violations that have come into focus during racial justice protests over the past several months, several cities including San Francisco, Oakland, and Boston have banned government agencies from using facial recognition. Portland, Oregon, went a step further in also banning private entities from using it in public spaces such as restaurants, convenience stores, and ridesharing vehicles.

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