As Europe mulls banning public use of facial recognition systems, a new and potentially scary avatar of the technology has come to light.
Clearview AI, a US-based company, has developed a system that can identify your personal information - like name, address and other details - using nothing but your mugshot.
Here's all you need to know about it.
Clearview AI's app being used for criminal identification
As first revealed by The New York Times, Clearview AI's tech, which comes in the form of an app, is being used by hundreds of law enforcement agencies in the US to track down dangerous perpetrators and solve the toughest cold cases ever.
It just scans a photograph of a suspect and throws a potential match with all the necessary details.
Database of 3 billion pictures, sourced from the internet
Clearview has curated a database of more than 3 billion pictures, sourced from different corners of the internet - including sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Venmo.
When an agency submits the mugshot of a perpetrator, the app compares it to the information in the database and pulls up potential matches, along with the links to the sites those photos had originally appeared on.
With source links, names and other details can be mined
After getting a match and accessing the original source of the database photo, law enforcement agencies can easily source the name of a suspect as well as other details they may have shared in the public domain - workplace, hometown, college name et al.
Apparently, some major cases have been solved with this app
While the app isn't available to the general public, Clearview's website states that the tool has been used to help "law enforcement track down hundreds of at-large criminals, including murderers, pedophiles, terrorists, and sex traffickers."
Beyond that, the tool has also been used to "help exonerate the innocent and identify the victims of crimes including child sex abuse and financial fraud."
Still, many are concerned about Clearview's tech
Even though Clearview claims that its tech only sifts through publicly available information, many people are worried about the potential misuse of the app.
Specifically, the concerned parties think that governments could abuse the system by using it as a tool of mass surveillance while individuals could use it as a way to stalk people they would run into on the road.
There is also the possibility of false match
Beyond stalking/surveillance, there is also the general concern that the tech used by the company could mislead law enforcement agencies by returning false matches. Clearview, on its part, claims that an independent panel of experts rated its tech as 100% accurate across all demographic groups.
FBI, Canadian Law Enforcement using Clearview
Currently, the Clearview app is being used by several law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, which has its own database of 641 million images of US citizens, and the Sex Crimes Unit of Canadian Law Enforcement.
The company hasn't said anything about making it publicly available (which could increase the risk of abuse), but its investors say that it will happen in the future.