Before it's too late, Americans need to think long and hard about the wisdom of venturing down this uncharted road. Few would argue against tools that help police capture dangerous criminals. It's the law-abiding among us who need to worry about what comes next when this software expands to general public use.
One of the most frightening technological advances is Clearview AI, a powerful facial recognition service currently available to U.S. and Canadian law enforcers. The company's software takes uploaded photos then scrapes the internet, including Facebook, for exact-match images. Its database now contains 3 billion photos and videos. But those aren't just photos of criminals. They're photos of children, grandmothers, families having fun at the beach. Anything and everything is fair game.
That's what makes it so useful to law enforcers. Precise comparison algorithms zip through the entire database at lightning speed to analyze frontal and profile facial photos along with any information connected to the targeted person. Whether it's your name, birthdate, hometown, children's names, high school, hobbies, favorite bar, political views — if it's on the internet, the algorithm uses it.
Most police officers would probably use such software only under authorized circumstances. But we know from a few local cases that not all officers can be trusted. Some could use it for personal enrichment or to find out, say, who an ex-spouse is dating.
Now imagine such an app on a cellphone for general public use. You're walking down the street, and a complete stranger greets you by name, identifies your spouse and kids, maybe mentions the name of your employer or how your family's Grand Canyon vacation went. Maybe the stranger mentions your address, or your political leanings. Left unregulated, the threat and exploitation potential would be unlimited.
Clearview insists its software is closely monitored and secure, and is designed to "identify child molesters, murderers, suspected terrorists, and other dangerous people quickly, accurately, and reliably to keep our families and communities safe."
But when a New York Times reporter looked into the company and contacted officers for a demonstration of the program, one officer received a call from Clearview and asked him why he uploaded a New York Times reporter's photo. A block was placed on searches of her. It was a clear demonstration of how the software is vulnerable to political manipulation.
If ever there was a clarion call for Congress to impose tight restrictions on this technology, it's now — before the notion of privacy becomes a quaint memory of a bygone era.
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