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‘Groundbreaking’ Clearview AI Technology Used To Take Down Alleged Child Sex Predators
In this high angle view, an unrecognizable police officer and criminal stand beside a motor vehicle as the officer cuffs the criminal's wrists.
Getty Images: SDI Productions

A new investigative technology that is being used by top U.S. law enforcement officials is assisting investigators in taking down alleged child sex predators, murders, identity thieves, and other serious criminals.

In a report over the weekend, The New York Times called the facial recognition tool pioneered by Clearview AI a “groundbreaking” technology because of the way that it works and the extreme accuracy of the software.

The tool works by running whatever photo law enforcement has of a person of interest through a database of publicly available images, which means that the photos are on the open internet and are not collected from any protected sources, including private social media accounts.

The tool is being used by top law enforcement officials to help solve everything from “identity theft [and] credit card fraud” to  “murder and child sexual exploitation cases,” The Times reported. “According to a Clearview sales presentation reviewed by The Times, the app helped identify a range of individuals: a person who was accused of sexually abusing a child whose face appeared in the mirror of someone’s else gym photo; the person behind a string of mailbox thefts in Atlanta; a John Doe found dead on an Alabama sidewalk; and suspects in multiple identity-fraud cases at banks.”

The Times noted one specific case that highlighted just how effective the tool is at helping investigators:

In February, the Indiana State Police started experimenting with Clearview. They solved a case within 20 minutes of using the app. Two men had gotten into a fight in a park, and it ended when one shot the other in the stomach. A bystander recorded the crime on a phone, so the police had a still of the gunman’s face to run through Clearview’s app.

They immediately got a match: The man appeared in a video that someone had posted on social media, and his name was included in a caption on the video. “He did not have a driver’s license and hadn’t been arrested as an adult, so he wasn’t in government databases,” said Chuck Cohen, an Indiana State Police captain at the time.

The man was arrested and charged; Mr. Cohen said he probably wouldn’t have been identified without the ability to search social media for his face. The Indiana State Police became Clearview’s first paying customer, according to the company.

Clearview highlighted instances in which their technology was used to quickly assist law enforcement officials in their investigations when time was of the essence.

One of the biggest cases that the company could reveal in which their technology was used to assist law enforcement was in New Jersey as part of Operation Open Door, a multi-agency undercover sting operation that led to the arrest of 19 alleged online child predators.

Another instance in which the technology was used was last August in New York City when a man caused a bomb scare by leaving two rice pressure-cookers in the Fulton Street subway station. Using the technology, law enforcement officials were able to rapidly identify the suspect and were able to locate him and take him into custody.

Clearview says that it has helped top law enforcement officials “track down hundreds of at-large criminals, including pedophiles, terrorists and sex traffickers.”

The Times article highlighted the potential privacy concerns that typically surround new technology that is used by law enforcement to assist in their investigative efforts.

To navigate relevant legal issues, Clearview hired Paul D. Clement, a United States solicitor general under President George W. Bush, who did not have concerns about the app’s legality, as he told law enforcement agencies that the technology does “not violate the federal Constitution or relevant existing state biometric and privacy laws when using Clearview for its intended purpose.”

Clearview, which was Australian American tech entrepreneur founded by Hoan Ton-That, noted their technology is being used by law enforcement to help “exonerate the innocent, identify victims of child sexual abuse and other crimes, and avoid eyewitness lineups that are prone to human error.”

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