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Police are using an invasive tool they don't understand

Kashmir Hill, reporting on Clearview AI, which uses a database of 3 billion images scraped from the internet to identify people and find information about them::

Federal and state law enforcement officers said that while they had only limited knowledge of how Clearview works and who is behind it, they had used its app to help solve shoplifting, identity theft, credit card fraud, murder and child sexual exploitation cases.

There’s no justification for law enforcement agencies to use a tool they don’t understand. It’s unprofessional and it’s dangerous.

For example: Clearview seemed to know when police ran Hill’s photo. Did the police know their searches were being monitored? If not, it’s easy to see that being exploited by people who’d rather not having the law snooping around.

Clearview AI is an Australian tech company and its founder claims it’s being used here. Australian police have proved time and time again they can’t be trusted to use tools like this properly – from data breaches to officers using databases to look up Tinder dates.

Clearview will be exploited, if it hasn’t already. If the reports are true, it works too well for that not to happen. Some cop somewhere will feel slighted or curious or whatever else and they’ll look up someone they shouldn’t be looking up. That in and of itself is an invasion of privacy. Anything else that happens from there just compounds the harm.

And we know who’s likely to bear the brunt of this. Minorities and those already disempowered. That’s the pattern.

There’s another element to this though. Clearview built its database with images scraped from publicly accessible websites. No-one submitted their images willingly. That’s yet another violation of privacy to add to the pile.

But Clearview represents a very public, very pronounced instance of the things we share being taken and used for reasons that go far and beyond our original intent. People seem to have either made peace or decided to just not think about the things we share being used to send ads our way (but they’re not okay with their photos being used in ads, if the scare campaigns are anything to go by). But this goes beyond that.

At some point, mass surveillance is going to have a chilling effect on the sharing and creativity that has thus made the internet tolerable. Maybe Clearview will be a tipping point, for some people at least.

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