In a sinister partnership that has all the makings of human rights violations, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has inked a contract with facial recognition company Clearview AI this week, government contracting records show.
In the past, ICE has notably separated families and children, detained refugees indefinitely in inhumane conditions, and recently threatened to kick international students out of the country. Now, the agency is paying Clearview AI $224,000 for what’s only described as “mission support” and “Clearview licenses.”
Here's why this pairing is especially concerning.
Clearview AI's controversial history
Clearview AI has been under fire since an investigation from The New York Times earlier this year showed that its facial recognition technology was in widespread use among law enforcement agencies and private companies. Clearview's technology could identify someone just from a photo and put names to faces through its database of over 3 billion images sourced from social media sites — often against these platforms’ rules.
Privacy advocates and leading tech companies alike have repeatedly condemned Clearview AI’s shady data-gathering tactics. In February, Facebook, Google, and countless other sites filed cease-and-desist letters to the firm and ordered it to remove data in violation of their respective ToS agreements.
Especially concerning is the firm’s close relationship with the police, especially considering the current climate and the possible links to racial profiling and tracking of protesters.
What could this ICE deal mean?
ICE’s history of using facial recognition tech is worrying enough as it is. Last month, the Washington Post reported that both ICE and the FBI had for years been secretly using millions of photos from driver’s license databases for facial recognition requests in what the outlet described as “the bedrock of an unprecedented surveillance infrastructure.”
This controversial partnership likely translates to ICE getting access to Clearview AI’s facial recognition software and its database. In a statement to The Verge, Clearview AI maintained that the contract was for investigating “cross-border criminal activity,” including human and weapon trafficking. The firm's CEO Hoan Ton-That said that the firm’s facial recognition tech will primarily be used in cases that involve minors.
Just to give you a picture of just how ominous this pairing is, Clearview AI has racked up several lawsuits for mining data against individuals' and companies' consent. Meanwhile, the European Data Protection Board has stopped Clearview AI’s expansion to Europe because it is not "consistent with the EU data protection regime.”
ICE has its own deeply worrying history with human rights violations and adding AI surveillance to its resources is further cause for alarm.