LAPD Bans Use of Commercial Facial Recognition Technology

By Shani Saxon Nov 19, 2020

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) on November 13 announced a ban on the use of third-party facial recognition software. The moratorium comes following a BuzzFeed News report in March that found that LAPD officers were using a controversial program called Clearview AI, which “scrapes images from social media and other websites and has built a database of billions of photos on which it’s trained its technology.” 

Reports BuzzFeed:

…documents seen by BuzzFeed News showed more than 25 LAPD employees had performed nearly 475 searches using Clearview AI as of earlier this year. Department officials have made conflicting statements in the past about their use of facial recognition technology, including claims that they deploy it sparingly.

LAPD officials told BuzzFeed that its proposed plan moving forward is to continue allowing the use of facial recognition, but only if it’s the Los Angeles County system that exclusively pulls from suspect booking photos. As BuzzFeed reports, the Los Angeles County Regional Identification System (LACRIS), “relies on more than 8,275,000 booking photos and mugshots and does not incorporate images from social media or the web.”

“It has come to the Department’s attention that a limited number of personnel have accessed commercial facial recognition systems (such as Clearview or other services) for Department business,” Deputy Police Chief John McMahon wrote in a department-wide statement obtained by BuzzFeed. McMahon explained that those systems use “non-criminal source images” in their databases. “Department personnel shall not use third-party commercial facial recognition services or conduct facial recognition searches on behalf of outside agencies,” he added.

According to BuzzFeed:

BuzzFeed News reported in March that people at more than 2,200 law enforcement departments, government agencies, and private companies across 27 countries have used Clearview AI. In many cases, the company did not have paid relationships with these users, instead allowing them to use the software on a free trial basis.

In a statement obtained by The Hill, Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That said the LAPD was using a trial of the software, along with “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,” Ton-That added.

According to BuzzFeed, LAPD officials refused to say which officers were using Clearview AI and for which cases it was used for. They also wouldn’t comment on whether or not the software has led to any arrests.

“Any technology with the ability to collect and analyze individuals’ biometric information has alarming potential to impinge on the public’s civil liberties and privacy,” Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass) wrote in a letter to Ton-That. “Clearview’s product appears to pose particularly chilling privacy risks, and I am deeply concerned that it is capable of fundamentally dismantling Americans’ expectation that they can move, assemble, or simply appear in public without being identified.”