ACLU Comment on ICE and California Law Enforcement Use of Clearview AI’s Face Surveillance System

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SACRAMENTO — A partial company list published today in an expose by Buzzfeed confirms that Immigration and Customs Enforcement and at least one California law enforcement agency have teamed up with Clearview AI to run people’s faces against the company’s shadily-assembled database of billions of photos. In fact, according to Buzzfeed, ICE agents have run more than 8,000 searches from about 60 accounts, and the San Mateo County Sheriff’s office has run about 2,000 searches. Hackers reportedly exploited a security flaw in Clearview’s platform to obtain the list.

There is widespread evidence that face recognition technology is error-prone and biased, with error rates higher for women and people with darker skin. Recognizing these threats and others this technology poses to civil rights more generally, three California cities — San FranciscoBerkeley, and Oakland – have banned government use of face recognition.

Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D – Santa Barbara) recently proposed California legislation that would impose a five-year moratorium on the use of biometric surveillance systems such as Clearview by state and local law enforcement agencies, among other provisions.

Below is comment from Matt Cagle, Technology and Civil Liberties Attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, in response:

“California needs to do everything it can to protect people from face surveillance, including passing legislation to prevent state and local agencies from recklessly adopting this technology. It is alarming that, despite widespread opposition, ICE, and other law enforcement agencies prone to abuse, are eagerly adopting a highly dangerous technology peddled by a company that apparently can't even keep basic client information secure.”

“Clearview is giving governments the power to spy on us wherever we go — identifying us at protests, reproductive healthcare clinics, LGBTQ bars, mosques, and more. They are marketing this product to national and international clients that are anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQ. To do nothing is to court disaster.”

Last year, California enacted AB 1215, which blocks the use of this technology in connection with officer body cameras.

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