Democratic senator presses facial recognition company after reports of law enforcement collaboration

Democratic senator presses facial recognition company after reports of law enforcement collaboration
© Greg Nash

Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyKennedy, Markey neck-and-neck in Massachusetts primary: poll Overnight Energy: EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Trump budget calls for slashing funds for climate science centers | House Dems urge banks not to fund drilling in Arctic refuge Democratic senators criticize plan that could expand Arctic oil and gas development MORE (D-Mass.) on Thursday sent a series of questions to the CEO of Clearview AI after reports that the company has been selling facial recognition software with an expansive database to law enforcement.

The New York Times first reported over the weekend that more than 600 law enforcement agencies have started working with Clearview, which claims to have a database of more than 3 billion photos, in the last year.

“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,” Markey wrote in the letter to CEO Hoan Ton-That.

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“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," he continued.

According to the Times, Clearview has built its software by scraping major social media platforms and allowing users to upload photos of strangers. The pool of pictures that has been built using the system dwarfs those put together by Silicon Valley companies or the U.S. government.

The tool, which scans faces for the purposes of identifying individuals, can be used by law enforcement for catching suspects, but civil rights groups and lawmakers have raised concern that it could also be used to identify protesters or people just going about their daily lives.

There is currently no federal law dictating when, how, where or why facial recognition technology can be used, but legislation on the issue seems likely following multiple hearings in the House.

In his letter to Ton-That, Markey asked for more information about who Clearview has sold its technology to, be it law enforcement or not. The company has remained largely secretive on that front, declining to disclose customers to journalists.

Markey also pressed the CEO on whether employees of Clearview can access the images uploaded to its database.

The senator also included a question about compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which sets restrictions on data from minors.

Clearview did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Markey's letter.