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‘Chilling’: facial recognition company Clearview AI hits watch groups with subpoenas


David Brody, a lawyer and senior privacy and technology researcher at the Nonprofit Civil Rights Lawyers Committee, said the move could be seen as an attempt to deter groups defense officials and journalists to conduct future investigations.

“Using a legal process to try to silence the critics – silence people who are just trying to get transparency into how our criminal justice system works and the tools used by law enforcement – it’s is pretty problematic, ”Brody said.

Open the Government and MuckRock shared their research on police use of surveillance – including Clearview technology – with the New York Times, and the newspaper released several reports last year detailing the startup’s work. with the police.

Authorities have used Clearview’s software for several years to try to match government database images and surveillance footage with billions of personal photos posted on the Internet. Advocates of privacy, human rights and civil liberties have long sounded the alarm bells about technology as being both intrusive and biased. It has been shown to disproportionately identify women and people of color.

Clearview attorney Andrew J. Lichtman said in a statement that “Clearview AI is vigorously defending against claims in multi-district litigation and has therefore served subpoenas on the appropriate parties regarding its defense.”

This litigation is a confidentiality case in Illinois district court that does not appear to involve Open The Government, Martinez, or Lucy Parsons Labs. Clearview did not respond to a question about the appropriateness of communications with reporters in the Illinois case.

Brody said challenging a subpoena can be a costly and costly process – and it can be especially troublesome for nonprofits and small advocacy organizations without the legal or financial clout to fight it. Lisa Rosenberg, executive director of Open the Government, argued that this was a way for Clearview to threaten critics.

“They presumably have huge amounts of resources at their disposal, we don’t,” Rosenberg said in an interview, adding that “nonprofits could potentially be intimidated by Clearview.”

Open the Government has obtained pro bono legal representation from Ballard Spahr. It was not immediately clear whether other advocates or civil society groups who spoke openly about Clearview were subject to subpoenas.

Albert Fox Cahn, founder and executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a nonprofit that advocates and advocates against mass government surveillance, argued that the subpoenas could intimidate or undermine surveillance groups like the his.

“There is absolutely no justification for a supplier to target civil society groups; we know how scary that can be, ”he said.

Rosenberg also called the subpoenas a “roundabout” of targeting journalists’ sources. “If a court were to force us to hand over these records, this precedent would be terrifying for the reasons of the First Amendment,” she said. Journalists “should be concerned that you may be able to protect your sources, but your sources could not protect themselves.”

Open view Founder Hoan Ton-That backed his “face search engine”, pointing out that Clearview only uses photos that are accessible to the public and arguing that there is a First Amendment right to public information.

Public reaction to the technology has prompted tech giants like Microsoft and IBM to withdraw from the market for good, and Amazon has indefinitely suspended police use of its Rekognition product to give Congress time to implement. guarantees.

But federal laws governing the technology are a long way off, and momentum on the issue given the last Congress has largely run out of steam. And while moves to regulate or ban the technology are expanding nationally and locally, an August report from the Government Accountability Office shows that nearly half of federal agencies plan to expand their use of facial recognition across the board. over the next two years.

At the same time, Clearview is strengthening its presence in Washington. The company hired its first lobbyists earlier this year, bringing in the Klein / Johnson Group, which was started by aides to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) to provide a ” education ”on facial recognition software, according to a disclosure file.

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