Raleigh police halt use of controversial facial-recognition software

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The Raleigh Police Department on Tuesday announced it is no longer using controversial facial-recognition software it had been using since August.

On Aug. 7, 2019, the department reached a one-year agreement with Clearview AI that cost it $2,500. It said the software used open sources and public domain to gather images.

Raleigh police used those images “with a specific focus on identifying victims of human trafficking and other serious crimes when other leads weren’t available or had been exhausted,” a news release said.

Clearview AI CEO and founder Hoan Ton-That said in an interview with CBS News that the program can identify someone from a photo in seconds. It matches unknown people to online photos and the sites with the images with 99.6 percent accuracy.

“We have a lot of questions about the Raleigh Police Department’s use of the technology,” said Molly Rivera, the spokesperson for the North Carolina American Civil Liberties Union. “We were before unaware that they were using it and we would love to know what they were using it for (and) what kind of rules they may have had in place to govern the use of the app.”

The department said only three employees had access to the software and it “did not rely solely on the results for charging purposes.”

In February, the department contacted Clearview AI to gather information about past use of the system “for internal auditing purposes.”

“When we did not receive a response that we believed to be satisfactory, we ceased our use of this technology and have shut down all Departmental access. We do not intend to resume use of Clearview AI,” a news release read.

The Raleigh Police Department’s policy on facial recognition was written in 2015 based on the technology that existed at the time, the release said.

“There is always a need to review policies as law and technology evolve. Facial recognition software is no exception,” the release read. “RPD is currently reviewing both its policy on facial recognition software, as well as the Department’s prior use of Clearview AI.”

Ton-That told CBS News more than 600 law enforcement agencies in the United States use the software, but wouldn’t say how many are on trial subscriptions.

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