A new series of reports from BuzzFeed News shows the wide net cast by shadowy surveillance firm Clearview AI. Individuals at 1,803 public agencies — many of which are U.S. police departments — have used its facial recognition software at some point over recent years, according to data reviewed by the news outlet.
In what may be the fullest accounting yet of the company’s activities, reporters found that Clearview has attempted to develop relationships with a wide milieu of law enforcement agencies, including police departments, federal security agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Air Force, district attorneys’ offices, campus security offices at various universities, and many others. Often, employees may have merely tested the company’s products — the result of free trials offered by the company. In others, the use was more extensive.
The report is based on information provided to BuzzFeed reporters by a confidential source, who supplied them with a list of agencies and companies that have allegedly tested or used the software at some point between 2018 and February of 2020.
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Clearview has apparently neither confirmed nor denied the validity of the list — and a majority of the organisations on the list never responded to reporters’ requests for comment. However, the news outlet claims it “gave every agency or organisation in this database the opportunity to comment” and that additional interviews and reporting support the accuracy of the list. Some 335 entities from the dataset have confirmed that they used the software, while 210 denied that they ever used it.
As BuzzFeed wrote:
“The data indicates that Clearview has broadly distributed its facial recognition software to federal agencies and police departments nationwide, offering the app to thousands of police officers and government employees, who at times used it without training or oversight. Often, agencies that acknowledged their employees had used the software confirmed it happened without the knowledge of their superiors, let alone the public they serve.”
One of the more interesting revelations from BuzzFeed’s coverage is the fact that the New York Police Department appears to have lied about whether it ever worked with Clearview. In 2020, the NYPD stated that it had “no institutional relationship” with the surveillance firm. However, according to the recent investigation, Clearview was actually “an acknowledged vendor to the department from as early as 2018.” That undisclosed relationship involved a trial of Clearview’s services, which reportedly included contracts, emails, and in-person meetings between police and the company.
To help readers wade through the data its uncovered, BuzzFeed has also developed a small, searchable table, meant to help people check whether their local government has ever used Clearview. You can read the full report on their investigation here.