On Last Week Tonight With John Oliver Sunday, the host focused attention on what he called the misuse of facial-recognition technology by law enforcement. There has been serious concern that the police are currently using facial recognition to identify Black Lives Matter protesters, and as Oliver pointed out, if they are, it wouldn’t be the first time.
“During the Freddie Gray protests, police used facial recognition technology to look for people with outstanding warrants and arrest them,” Oliver said, “which is a pretty sinister way to undermine the right to assemble.”
Due to public outcry, IBM, Microsoft and Amazon are not allowing the police to access their facial recognition technology, and IBM has stopped developing the technology for mass surveillance altogether, but that won’t stop law enforcement from accessing millions of photos of American citizens.
“Since 2011, the FBI has logged more than 390,000 facial-recognition searches,” Oliver said, “and the databases law enforcement are pulling from include over 117 million American adults and incorporates, among other things, drivers license photos from residents of all these states [30 states highlighted on a map of the U.S.]. So roughly one in two of us have had our photos searched this way.”
Perhaps most concerning is that hundreds of law enforcement agencies have been using the services of Clearview AI, which pulls people’s photos from social media without their knowledge. Google, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have sent cease-and-desist letters to Clearview AI, which responded by saying they had a First Amendment right to access the photos. Clearview’s image-search technology is not currently used in the European Union because the European Data Protection Board warned it may not be legal.
“The notion that someone can take your picture and immediately find out everything about you is alarming enough even before you discover that over 600 law enforcement agencies have been using Clearview’s service,” Oliver said. “And you’re probably in that database even if you don’t know it.”
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