back to article US Homeland Security sued for 'stonewalling' over use of Clearview facial recognition

The US Department of Homeland Security and its law enforcement agencies – Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection – have been sued for failing to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests about their use of Clearview AI’s facial-recognition technology. Four non-profit organizations focused …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nuke the Planet for Equality

    “Facial recognition algorithms erroneously match and misidentify Black and Brown people at a disproportionate rate,” said Jennifer Jones, Technology & Civil Liberties Fellow at the ACLU of Northern California in a statement.

    One way to make things more equal would be to make the better side worse off and leave the worse side alone, but would things really be better this way?

    Improvement should be the goal, not equality.

    1. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: Nuke the Planet for Equality

      They're missing the point entirely about facial recognition -- its never going to be 100% perfect, it just has to be as good as, or better, than a human. Its going to have errors but then eye-witness testimony is also notoriously unreliable so the only time false positives are a problem is if law enforcement expects to be able to convict a person of a crime based entirely on eye-witness testimony. (They fact historically they've done so for any number of 'colored' people speaks volumes about bias in the system -- having or denying access to any particular technology isn't going to change that.)

      The beef people have with facial recognition isn't really about it not working. The worry is that it does work, its very effective and its constantly improving. We don't have any way of legally shielding our image when we're out in public so there really isn't any bar to the wholesale deployment of facial recognition, especially if its done by a private company. Its the same trick that allows us to deploy ANPR. The only thing we can't do is the kind of automatic law enforcement that you see in the UK were driving infractions can be assigned to a vehicle's owner.

      Incidentally, if you really want to see Big Brother in operation then try driving the Interstate parallel to the Mexican border. You'll pass several immigration checkpoints -- the ones on I-10 around El Paso, Texas, for example -- that use very sophisticated image aquisition and processing equipment. The ElReg reader in me wants to stop and check the kit out but the citizen knows not to mess with the Feds so you just drive through at the speed requested (emitting sheep like noises). Anyone who thinks that this sort of kit is going to be packed up and put away because of "human rights" is living in an alternate reality. (What I suspect the kit is doing is collecting imagey of the occupants of the vehicle, counting them in and counting them out of the border zone.)

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Nuke the Planet for Equality

        " The worry is that it does work, its very effective and its constantly improving. "

        last time I checked, the false negative rate was high and the false positive rate was high. The only thing it CAN do is improve

        it's nowhere near close to being useable by anyone and yet Big Brother is trying to do so

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Disagreement on the purpose of government

    “Clearview AI portends a grim future for us: police officers, ICE agents, and border patrol with the ability to know our identity, our jobs, our relationships just by pointing their phones and taking a photo of our faces,”

    The problem isn't the technology. If it's not face recognition, it will be something else: stingrays, Echelon, buying location data from adtech companies, etc. IMHO the problem is the underlying attitude of nominally-democratic governments and LEOs, backed by the legal framework that electeds have created to protect their own power and interests at the expense of the citizenry.

    Many elected bodies (and this is not exclusive to the US) have thus far declined to provide a legal structure that specifies when, where, and how these sorts of technologies can be used, because they do not want to go on record for creating an anti-democratic surveillance state. This leaves intentional gray areas where individual officers can use workarounds like "free trial" accounts to deploy supposedly non-approved tech in the field, presumably with tacit approval from command, without leaving a paper trail back to the policy makers. Have cake and eat cake.

    At root, this is a differing view on the purpose or government. Most people naively believe the civics class rubric that government exists to protect the people. Whereas many governmental types see the role of government as to perpetuate itself -- effectively, to protect itself from the people.

    1. Snake Silver badge

      Re: Disagreement on the purpose of technology

      So you are fundamentally stating that technologists have no moral investment in decisions made about how the technology they develop can potentially be used.

      And you see no problem in this. Because it is easier to point a single finger to a single violator and say "It's all his / her fault". It's easier to point to the demagogue standing on the podium, versus the 1 million armed followers in his army who are actively suppressing and killing anyone who stands in their way.

      This is just one of the fundamental reasons why humanity never moves forward. Because they never see the problems that need fixing.

      Some logical and careful thought brings only one conclusion: Clearview built a technology that they knew would be used in a governmental / law enforcement profile. Exactly who else would buy facial recognition and roll it out in a large enough scale to make monetizing this idea worthwhile??!

      So even though Clearview knew that their ideas would certainly empower those who wanted to leverage such technologies to hold on to, to increase, their power, a very technology warned about in 1984...they did it anyway.

      And governments around the world are beating a path to their door.

      And you are both surprised AND looking to allow Clearview to wash their hands of any responsibility, even though any idiot would certainly have told them where their technology would eventually lead.


      I'm sorry, but I don't. Thanks to a different outlook on the lessons of history I've learned that EVERYONE is responsible, from the leaders to the followers. The leaders did not have to lead *and* the followers did not have to follow.

      Clearview is as guilty as anyone in creating the technology and rolling it out regardless of decades of warning from everywhere from science fiction to futurists warning you what would happened when such types of technology were allowed unchecked. They DON'T get a pass simply because they were only 'capitalists' creating a tool...that only had one potential application.

      Rights, privacy, democracy and freedom starts from the very bottom - anyone and everyone understanding, and respecting, lines in the sand. Clearview very obviously created a technology who's only possible intent was to impose a proto-totalitarian authority - identifying every person within sight of a camera to those using the technology. There is only ONE possible use for the technology itself: why would you NEED to identify every passer by as a private operator??

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Disagreement on the purpose of technology

        But, but, but ... teh terrists! teh chiiildreen! teh covids! teh pR0n! teh furriners! teh globalwarming! teh evul empire! :::waves hands in air dramatically::: WE NEEDZ DIS NEW TECH STUFFS!!! It protecteth us from teh boogymans!

        and my re-election campaign gets more funding from the purveyors, you suckers

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Disagreement on the purpose of technology

        @Snake: Wow, what comment did you read? Because I didn't say any of those things.

        The article is about a lack of government transparency. My comment is about why (in my opinion) that is the case.

        I agree that technology companies need to consider the ramifications of how their products could be used or misused. But consider adtech companies: it is the absence of meaningful privacy laws in the US that enable adtechs' and data aggregators' literal stock in trade to be petabytes of deeply personal information, gleaned from surveillance, that in most cases the government itself is not allowed to gather without a warrant. The companies did not gather that information to create an Orwellian dystopia (as far as we know); they collected it in an attempt to make money by helping other companies sell more soap.

        Then we find out that Homeland Security and others are simply buying that surveillance data -- which, remember, they would not be able to collect themselves without warrants -- in an end run around the fourth amendment.

        Why can they do that? Because the laws are vague or silent on that topic. Why are the laws that way? Because no one has changed them. Why has no one changed them? That was the point of my post.

        The gray area created by that legal vagueness enables certain agents of the state to obtain desired information without the pesky annoyance of following the existing law and constitutional precedent surrounding surveillance and 'searches' performed by the government itself.

        So no, tech companies don't get a pass. But neither does government, for creating the climate that allows these tools to morph from soap-selling aids to tools of oppression.

        1. Snake Silver badge

          Re: Disagreement on the purpose of technology

          "Wow, what comment did you read? Because I didn't say any of those things.

          I read this:

          The problem isn't the technology. If it's not face recognition, it will be something else

          and I'm saying YES, the problem does include the technology because one must think about how a creation is going to be used when you create it, and thereafter keep an eye out on what happens with it.

          Because Frankenstein, 1984 and Zyklon B were pretty good foretellers of this.

          That is, we have been told or have seen what happens when technology is used without any moral compass, under the assumption that technology is "neutral" in its own right and without moral implications. That is false due to human nature; technology will be bent to serve the whims and egos of those who hold it. So it is up to society to police technology's influence, always, and this is proven out by historical precedent.

  3. jake Silver badge

    "northern Cali"

    If anybody cares, that flippant wording is short for "United States District Court for the Northern District of California, San Francisco-Oakland Division".

  4. Mike 137 Silver badge

    not at all unexpected

    "many governmental types see the role of government as to perpetuate itself -- effectively, to protect itself from the people"

    Not a new problem. In Britain alone, Henry VIII thought so, so did Charles I, and, much more recently, George IV. And of course many others all over the globe. The basic principle is that those who gain power want to keep it and exercise it. But it's not necessarily true that power corrupts - it may merely provide the opportunity to safely demonstrate how corrupt one always was.

    1. Gemini 51

      Re: not at all unexpected

      The evil that men do....

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    “Facial recognition algorithms erroneously match and misidentify Black and Brown people at a disproportionate rate,”

    It is how that (defective) information is used by people with absolute power over other people.

    Someone will use it as an excuse to put someone else through hell, because they can.

    They don't care about some misidentification rate.

  6. tonyyaman

    sqrew the do-gooders and civil rights if it's going to stop bombings and such good your arse holes sorry not prevent that bombing civil rights ars holes stopped us use face reck which would have stopped it and so many others you are iddiots

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