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Senator presses controversial facial recognition company on use on protesters

Senator presses controversial facial recognition company on use on protesters
© Greg Nash

Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push expansion of offshore wind, block offshore drilling with ocean energy bill | Poll: Two-thirds of voters support Biden climate plan | Biden plan lags Green New Deal in fighting emissions from homes Biden plan lags Green New Deal in fighting emissions from homes Senate Republicans offer constitutional amendment to block Supreme Court packing MORE (D-Mass.) on Monday sent a letter to Clearview AI pressing the controversial facial recognition company to ensure its product is not being used to monitor protests against police brutality that have erupted across the country following the death of George Floyd.

Multiple reports have found that police departments in some of the cities that have seen protests have partnered with Clearview, a company that has been under intense scrutiny since it was discovered in January to have amassed a database of more than 3 billion photos collected by scraping social media.

In Minneapolis, where Floyd died after an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, 10 users ran more than 160 searches with the tool, according to BuzzFeed News.

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The sheriff's office that oversees Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis, reportedly conducted almost 400 searches among 10 Clearview accounts.

Markey's letter to Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That raised concerns that those law enforcement officials could be using the technology to identify protesters.

“As demonstrators across the country exercise their First Amendment rights by protesting racial injustice, it is important that law enforcement does not use technological tools to stifle free speech or endanger members of the public,” he wrote.

“I urge you to take every step necessary to ensure that your technology will not force Americans to choose between sacrificing their rights to privacy or remaining silent in the face of injustice,” he added.

The letter, the third Markey has sent to Clearview, called for the company to undergo an independent assessment of its technology.

It also asked whether search traffic has risen on Clearview since the protests began and for the company to bar law enforcement agencies from using the technology to monitor peaceful protesters.

Ton-That said in a statement to The Hill that Clearview has received Markey's letter and will respond to him directly.

"Clearview AI’s technology is intended only for after-the-crime investigations, and not as a surveillance tool relating to protests or under any other circumstances," he said.