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San Diego Police Ban the Use of Clearview AI Facial Recognition Software

Ban comes after a short trial period in SDPD and DA cases

By Evan Symon, March 18, 2020 4:34 pm

On Late Monday, the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) and the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office formally banned the usage of Clearview AI facial recognition software.

Clearview has been under heavy scrutiny since January after exposes found that the technology was not accurate and that the company had made fake endorsements to try and sell it’s software. Privacy concerns have also been a major concern for many since the software was developed several years ago, as have been accusations of racial profiling due to certain specifics the software uses. Police departments nationwide have been experimenting with such software in order to more readily identify criminals in an area, as well as identify people in images surrounding crimes as evidence.

“On paper, identifying suspects so readily sounds good,” noted lawyer Gail Robinson, who has assisted in similar technology cases before. “But in reality, in this case, this company lied about what it was capable of. It wasn’t accurate, and if you applied that to real cases only to find out you got the wrong people, every single case that technology was used in would suddenly be jolted. I’m talking mistrials and upended sentences in appeals, especially in cases where the video evidence with facial recognition was the only evidence.”

“San  Diego dodged a bullet by doing this.”

Both tech companies and civil liberty groups such as the ACLU had come out against Clearview for their practices, and some police departments, such as the Waterloo Police Department in Ontario, Canada, have already stopped using it.

San Diego Police had stopped using the software in February because of the many issues associated with the company. However, both the SDPD and the San Diego County District Attorney’s office admitted that they continued to use the software on a free trial basis for weeks afterwards. Two SDPD detectives and 8 DA investigators used Clearview AI on several cases, but with none resulting in any charges.

“Investigators in our office have been informed they are not to participate in free trials of any kind without authorization,” said San Diego DA spokesman Steve Walker in a statement following San Diego’s ban on the technology.

Before San Diego’s decision, facial recognition was already partially banned in the state. The largest such ban was Assembly Bill 1215. AB 1215, which began this year, states that the use of facial recognition software in police bodycams is banned for three years while the technology gets more accurate. It was only passed in 2019. Police have been limited into how they can apply facial recognition technology in the interim, with surveillance cameras being the prime target for the technology.

The SDPD and the San Diego DA’s office have both not stated whether facial recognition software to the extent of where it was with Clearview AI would be revisited on in the future.

Evan Symon
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