Facial Recognition for the Masses
Notorious facial-recognition firm Clearview AI has agreed to “balance the scales of justice,” says CEO Hoan Ton-That. Clearview's technology has long been used by law enforcement to surveil and even prosecute defendants, but it can also be used in a defendant’s favor. In a 2019 case, Andrew Grant Conlyn was acquitted of charges in a fatal car crash after his public defenders used the software to find a witness who could clear his name. Despite Conlyn's victory, some legal experts still question the use of Clearview for any case.
“This [defense strategy] is mostly being done as a P.R. stunt to try to push back against the negative publicity that Clearview has about its tool and how it’s being used by law enforcement,” Jerome Greco, who works for the Legal Aid Society's forensics technology lab, told The New York Times.
Moreover, The Times notes, regardless of whether public defenders have access to the tech or not, “critics say it puts millions of law-abiding people in a perpetual lineup for law enforcement, which is particularly troubling given broader concerns about the accuracy of automated facial recognition.”
As The Guardian writes, in May, the British Government's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) handed down one of its largest fines ever to Clearview (£7.5m) and ordered the firm to delete any data of UK residents from its systems. “The company not only enables identification of those people, but effectively monitors their behavior and offers it as a commercial service,” John Edwards, the ICO's commissioner said. “That is unacceptable. That is why we have acted to protect people in the UK by both fining the company and issuing an enforcement notice.”
The usefulness and legality of Clearview's tech are questionable. Can it save some innocent people? Maybe. But its broader use remains problematic.