Clearview’s Facial Recognition App Is Identifying Child Victims of Abuse


Britney Walker, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security’s Child Exploitation Investigations Unit, said that it collaborated with external agencies to assist in investigations, but that the unit’s “victim-centered” approach forbade any sharing of illegal imagery.

“Under no circumstances would the agency share child sexual abuse materials to private companies,” Ms. Walker said.

Other companies already work closely with law enforcement officials investigating child sexual abuse. Johann Hofmann, the chief executive of Griffeye, said the company’s imagery analysis software was installed inside law enforcement networks and was designed to avoid sending images to third parties, including Griffeye itself.

Another company providing analysis tools to investigators of child sexual abuse, CameraForensics, also said its systems were designed to never receive any imagery, including faces, from law enforcement. The company’s founder, Matt Burns, said his company had considered incorporating facial recognition technology into its software, but had decided not to for “ethical reasons.”

“We thought it was too controversial of a feature because it was too easy to use that functionality for abuse,” he said. “And also it’s just a legal nightmare.”

Still, Mr. Burns said, he understood why investigators would want to use facial recognition software. “They are faced with a very grim task, and if there’s a tool that gives them an opportunity to safeguard victims, I don’t blame them for trying to grab it with both hands,” he said.

Since Clearview’s practices have come to light, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Venmo and YouTube have sent the company cease-and-desist letters, asking it to stop scraping photos from their sites and delete existing images in its database. The attorney general of New Jersey banned the use of Clearview by officers in the state and called for an investigation into how it and similar technologies were being used by law enforcement. A lawsuit seeking class-action certification was filed in Illinois, where a strong biometric privacy law prohibits the use of residents’ faceprints without their consent, and another was filed in Virginia on Monday.


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