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Los Angeles police ban use of third-party facial recognition software

Los Angeles police ban use of third-party facial recognition software
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The Los Angeles Police Department has reportedly banned the use of third-party commercial facial recognition software after controversial firm Clearview AI came under scrutiny this year amid reports it was working with law enforcement agencies across the country. 

The department, which is the third largest in the nation, issued a moratorium on the use of third-party facial recognition software on Nov. 13, BuzzFeed News reported Tuesday

“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, according to Buzzfeed. 

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“Department personnel shall not use third-party commercial facial recognition services or conduct facial recognition searches on behalf of outside agencies,” McMahon added. 

The moratorium reportedly comes after inquiries from BuzzFeed News about the use of Clearview AI by Los Angeles police officers. BuzzFeed News obtained documents that showed more than 25 officers in the department performed nearly 475 searches using Clearview AI earlier this year. 

“Last week, when you brought to our attention that we had employees who used Clearview, we put out a notice directing employees that they can't use third-party software,” Horace Frank, an assistant chief with Los Angeles police, told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday. “We are in the process of putting out a larger, formal policy as we speak.”

Officials with the department told BuzzFeed News the proposed new policy will still allow the use of facial recognition only through a Los Angeles County system that relies on suspect booking images. 

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department was not immediately available for comment to The Hill. 

Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That told The Hill in a statement the Los Angeles Police Department had a trial of the software “as have many other law enforcement agencies around the country.”

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“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 said.

“Clearview AI is proud to be the leader in facial recognition technology, with new features like our intake form — whereby each search is annotated with a case number and a crime type to ensure responsible use, facial recognition training programs, and strong auditing features," he added.

Clearview reportedly built its software by scraping social media platforms and allowing users to upload photos of strangers. 

In March, BuzzFeed reported that more than 2,200 law enforcement departments, governmental agencies and private companies across 27 countries have used Clearview. 

Earlier in the year, The New York Times reported that more than 600 law enforcement agencies started working with Clearview and the firm claimed to have a database of more than 3 billion photos. 

The company has come under scrutiny in wake of the reports, spurring questions from Democratic lawmakers.

“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,” Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden eyes new leadership at troubled public lands agency | House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally | Trump administration pushes for rollback of Arctic offshore drilling regulations House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally MORE (D-Mass.) wrote in the letter to Ton-That in January.

Democrats again raised concerns about the use of the firm's technology in light of government surveillance of anti-police brutality protests that erupted across the country this summer after the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed after an arresting officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

--Updated 11:43 a.m.