The Los Angeles Police Department issued a moratorium on the use of commercial facial recognition software on Tuesday, effectively ending a trial with dystopian software manufacturer Clearview AI that the department had long sought to downplay.
The decision reportedly comes after Buzzfeed News probed the LAPD’s use of the software, which officials had in the past claimed to only deploy “sparingly.” Contrary to those claims, however, the investigation found that more than 25 LAPD employees had performed nearly 475 searches over a three month period in 2019, using the facial recognition software as a tool to scrape non-criminal images from their vast databases. Typically, those databases are compiled by culling photos from social media and other public internet platforms, which has drawn the ire of civil liberties activists who claim that the data is gathered without the consent of the civilians being profiled.
“It has come to the Department’s attention that a limited number of personnel have accessed commercial facial recognition systems (such as Clearview or other services) for Department business,” Deputy Police Chief John McMahon wrote in a department-wide statement. “Department personnel shall not use third-party commercial facial recognition services or conduct facial recognition searches on behalf of outside agencies.”
According to McMahon, who runs the department’s IT division, the officers found responsible for running up the large number of searches had been a small group of “investigators” who, on some occasions, “hit it more than once, and that’s not authorized,” he said.
“Clearview grabs photos from all over the place, and that, from a department standpoint, raises public trust concerns,” McMahon added.
That the LAPD — the third-largest police department in the United States — is ending its use of facial recognition software is significant, particularly at a time when most other law enforcement agencies are ramping up their use. In August, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced a $224,000 with Clearview AI, presumably for access to its facial recognition software.
Over on the east coast, the New York Police Department also continues to deny that it has any formal relationship with Clearview, but, like the LAPD, has been proven to have conducted upwards of 11,000 searches using the software as of earlier this year.
In a statement to Buzzfeed News, an NYPD spokesperson said that that department was also in the process of “updating [its] policy on Facial Recognition practices to address emerging issues.”