Clearview AIs facial recognition technology
This is a CBC podcast. Hi I'm Matt Galloway. This is a podcast from the January January. Twenty first edition of the current. The manhunt here in New York City after a bomb scare shutdown major subway station during the morning commute soon after the NYPD releasing surveillance images these nineteen men went on social media to have sexual conversations with Kit and today cyber age we're dealing with a new breed of criminal that's an ad for the company. clearview a clear view uses online images to help police track down criminals. If you've never heard of this company will you're not alone loan. The company has worked hard to keep a low corporate profile. Which is ironic because profiles are a big part of clearview business? Kashmira hill is a technology reporter for the New York Times. You took a deep dive into clear views work Kashmir good morning. Good Morning Matt. What exactly it is clear view a I do so clear? View is a company company that has scraped the web of three billion photos from public websites like facebook then Mo instagram educational educational sites employment sites in order to create a big public based database where now have the facial recognition out if it can run on all those photos you can take a photo of somebody and it will bring back all of the photos that scrape that person along with links to the sites. Just be clear. Were these pictures. Come when you say. It's scrape the photos from those sites. These are these are photos that people would have posted up on their social media accounts. Or what have you yeah. I mean it's maybe photo hugh posted posted on a public social media account. Were you know photos that people have posted of you Like for example I saw tax professional site Among the results results that were coming in on the APP and so the yeah. It's it's just photos up on the web and this is something people have long feared would happen because we have. How put so many photos of ourselves out there? But companies that were capable of building a tool like this like Google have said you know this is the one technology they held back because it could be used in such a bad way But now now it's been done. Not Taboo has been broken and clear clear view. I has been working with Over six hundred law enforcement agencies in the US and Canada and other places for the last year and no one had any idea Except for the company itself in the police until this article came out this weekend which rattled a lot of people and was shared. All around the world tell me a little bit just briefly about the company itself self. Who started this thing up so with founded by technologist named one tenth that who is from Australia and Richard Schwartz Schwarts. Who is kind of a longtime New Yorker who worked for mayor? Rudolph Giuliani in The nineteen nineties that he was the editorial page editor of The New York Daily News. The two one is thirty. One Richard is sixty one. They met at a event at the Manhattan Institute which is a conservative think tank in New York and discovered they had a lot in common And decide to build this facial recognition APP. Together it's funded by Peter Thiel among other investors and Peter thiel course's famous for backing facebook and pollen. Tear the surveillance company and I mean I was as I was looking into this this company. I was Amazed by how quickly grew you know the two the two founders met in twenty sixteen and they only really really got a product up and running in twenty eighteen Until over the course of a year they have spread like wildfire through law enforcement. As you did the research. What did you think when you when you first not only figured out what clear view is doing but also who was buying the product who had access to this database of three billion photos photos well actually mentioned it was hard to do my research on the company? Initially when I I was kicked off the company by a couple of foia research or who. You thought turn up in public records requests. When I went to the company's website it was closed to the public? It was only access accessible by law enforcement. It had an address that was just just a couple of blocks away from the New York Times office and when I walked over there I discovered that the building didn't exist When I checked Lincoln and they had a a fake employee later turned out to be a fake name that was being used by one of the founders and they wouldn't return any of my calls or emails and and I was reaching out to a lot of people found affiliated with the company and so I ended up going instead to the users of the tool so I started reaching out to police departments that I had determined we're using IT and a couple of cases I was able to talk to detectives used APP and I was skeptical at that point Because of how little I could find on the company company and I was like maybe this is just snake oil or fake that the police officers said it was incredible that had helped themselves dozens of cases dead in cases that they had abandoned they went back and ran the suspects photos through the APP. And we're able to identify them and they just said it. You know worked so much better than the government provided provided databases. They have been using before. That only has mugshots and driver's license photos. And when you're you have a photo that's just ahead on photo of the person. In this case you know it could be a partial photo The person be wearing glasses a hat and I saw that for myself when the company eventually started talking talking to me. I didn't interview with their founder and he ran the APP on me and it pulled up photos of me that I didn't know we're online voter photos of you that you'd never seen before. So does I'd never seen before. And then I covered my face. I covered my mouth and my nose with my hand and he took another photo. And it's still pulled up seven photos with me including one from ten years earlier and I was just shocked at how well face recognition algorithm work. You mentioned police forces in the United States are using Nisa also say that some Canadian police forces are using this. Who who's using it here in Canada A condition of the interview with author. Through using candidates I cannot say where they are who they are But it is being used to solve many cases Murder Murder Cases Identity fraud in cases of child exploitation cases. I mean it's just you any any case where you have a face somebody and you don't know who that is. You can run it to the APP. And according to the Company at works up to seventy four seventy five percent of the time three out of four searches. It's going to find a match. What concerns you the most about but how this technology could be used in a future and who might use this technology So I have a lot of concerns I mean I think that face recognition to solve crimes is a great tool and I definitely want police to be able to solve these crimes. One thing that worries me was just how the technology works that it was kind of a little known the company Most of the departments had done no vetting them and they're sending sensitive information you know Police suspects victims to the company company. Servers and to the company has fast database of everyone that the police department is interested in and in my case they actually abuse that power they while they we're talking to me. It turned out that anytime I talked to a police officer I would ask them to run my photo to see what the results were and the police officers would then get a call from the company saying. Are you talking to the media so they were actually tracking. Who was talking to me while they weren't talking to me So I found that a bit disturbing Turkey. Nothing I have the power they could certainly abuse in terms of manipulating results are kind of knowing. WHO's in trouble? And then as I was talking to Um investor behind the company and two officers. They all predicted that this is an APP that will be in public hands Either clear clear view that or another companies copycat copycat version of it and that will all have the power within the next five years in early investor. An early investor told you that There's never going to be privacy. Insure this might lead to some sort of dystopia in future. But you can't ban it right. That's that's terrifying. To other people I would think it was a quote where my jaw kind of dropped does he was saying it But but I I you know I've always kind of thought that face recognition maybe ubiquitous. Just because of you know the advance in technology analogy and all the photos of ourselves but if that were truly the reality it would it would end to you know a public entity. If you're in a restaurant having a sensitive conversation conversation about family secrets are work secrets a stranger next. You could snap your photo and know who you are and understand that conversation in context next and I mean that's that's that's I don't know that's terrifying to me. Maybe because I'm a reporter and I'm always afraid of getting scooped but you can imagine no stalkers using this tool I just real really militias use cases. I mean it would be nice to go to a cocktail party and never have to worry about remembering anyone's name but I think that the the harms may outweigh the benefits Kashmir to talk to you about this. Thank you thank you for having me on Kashmir Kashmir hill technology reporter for the New York Times. She mentioned that there are police services here in Canada that are using this technology of the wooden. Say who we did reach out to a number of police forces in Canada to see which might be using clearview a is products the Vancouver. Police say they've never used tested facial recognition from clearview A. I have no no intention of doing so. The Toronto Police Service as it does use facial recognition but not through clearview the Antero provincial. Police say they have used facial recognition technology. Oh Gee for various types of investigations. But they wouldn't specify which product they use similarily the RCMP would not comment on which techniques it uses but the RCMP. Did Say A. This is a quotation. We continue to monitor new and evolving technology and quote privacy. Advocates may be concerned according to my next guest though this this could be a useful tool in catching criminals. Michael Aren't field is a criminologist and former police officer. Michael Good morning to you. Good morning what do you make of the services that clearview a is offering. Well I think as you mentioned Facial recognition has to some extent already been used for years by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. This obviously based on the results that are at least anecdotally been provided about and are in the article about cold cases being solved literally literally in seconds Obviously presents a new I think expediency to two matches and the way to sort of circumvent attempts attempts to obscure the face or your shortcomings in the quality of the image. So this I think is a more sophisticated tool. We've heard Which obviously will be appealing to to law enforcement where quite frankly and and a great deal of investigations when using any biometric data whether it be a face or fingerprints the prince or or Or Gate like the movement of of how somebody ambulance over or even DNA for that matter. There's always a second step verification Asian process required. So you want the first step to be as accurate as possible so I think you should dissuade listener's concerns that I mean if a match gets made that someone is instantly locked locked up and there's no due process like a fingerprint need. This needs to be corroborated independently by by someone as part of sort of a peer review process for any further actions. Undertake take tell me more about facial. Recognition mentioned. There are a lot of police forces in this country that are using it already. How important is it in in catching criminals? Well I mean it seems really important. I mean the first sort of break through In terms of in Canada at least in terms of understanding that automated systems for identifying people as as people become as individuals and defenders sort of become more a tenant is was licensed scanning which of course allowed for we both stationary and mobile scanning vehicles on the road where the license was scandal within you know half a second you had the registered owner information insurance information the nation and these are not plates. That are being queried. Because they've done anything suspicious. That's being done at random. So you know privacy advocates said. Well you know this is somewhat arbitrary swearing just going fishing and you know the court said you have no reasonable expectation of privacy publicly already. Know that You're on a road operating a vehicle. You you have a lesson degree of privacy Certainly in a vehicle than say versus your home then those a well established so we have the groundwork laid played for the fact that this is efficient that this is minimally invasive and that Whatever the optics are that the return is utilitarian in that The the upsides faraway the downsides and are in the public interest. Quite frankly the optics here though are that there are three billion pictures that have have been scooped up from various social media sites. They're stored in a database that people can access. How is that? Not a massive invasion of privacy. Well I think we're AH deluding ourselves. If we think that we have any privacy whatsoever I mean people throw around the world. This is big brother And if you know anything about William Fiction or Dystopia sci-fi by the dystopia and features one where technocracy and private corporations Sort of the government and controlling day to day affairs and regulating behavior later. And we're already there. So I mean three billion images for use by police in apprehending offenders and cold case files versus I'm sure far far more more than that already in The troves of alphabet income and the various media conglomerates that control the technologies we use day to day and we know our trafficking and we know are selling it to advertise. Your point. Isn't that privacy is already gone. The horses they barn decisely. And this point I I mean people get up in arms when they hear that. There's a practical law enforcement application to it and and invoke wrongly terms like big brother and And I'm not sure why because because I mean again. There has been no ruckus about what's been going on Already with these companies so to think that now we can actually use this for a productive purpose for public safety next year now. Why now wise alarming standard now? What about what ends up? Not In the hands of the police but it ends up as Kashmira saying maybe in the hands of a stalker maybe in the hands of somebody who is spying on somebody else or he's listening to other people's conversations isn't that A A an alarm bell that should be ringing loudly loudly as we see the spread of this technology. So that is the one Concerned I do have. And which is why quite frankly. These types of covert relationships action ships with partner with the law enforcement outwardly. Appear in you know sort of surreptitious cloak and dagger in weird in reality. That's the type of Containment containment I think you want my worst case. Scenario with getting in the hands of for instance A lobbying group or political consulting group who who could For instance obtain information from Polling stations at demonstrations and begin engaging of what we now refer to it as Docs in in which is identifying publicly releasing the name image and corresponding financial Family Information of those people on the Internet which quite frankly as we know places these people in extreme danger and that is the foremost misuse of this system. Michael we'll leave it there. It's good to hear from you thank you. Thanks for having the article. Armfield is a criminologist former police officer. For years men were disappearing from Toronto's Gay village. I feel terrorized is. I'm Justin Lee this season on uncover. We see this happening. How can you not see this? They suspected serial killer and and they were right. Police arrested sixty-six-year-old Bruce Macarthur. But this wasn't the first time village was targeted. You don't start killing at sixty six six. Start killing when you're in your late teens. Early twenties uncover the village available. Now wherever your podcast. Brennan Brendan Fail Is Director of the privacy technology and surveillance project with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. She's been listening to these conversations and is with me in our studio. CEO IN TORONTO. Good Morning Good Morning. How comfortable are you with what clearview seems to be doing? I'm profoundly uncomfortable with what crazy uncomfortable. And why is is that the case. Well this is exactly the sort of scenario that we have been concerned about for a long time and that people have been then saying no no. It's okay big tech is being careful. We're moving forward cautiously on this look. Technology companies are even calling on our regulators others to think about this before we implement these technologies and then you've got a hotshot startup who comes in with a fake it till you make it attitude and puts this technology out there in the wild technology that police services and we heard from Michael on this say works. We heard he's him saying that that you can solve solve crimes cold cases in in seconds and the police services that are using this technology according to Kashmir hills reporting are delighted with it. Shouldn't if you took it society and the benefits to society. Shouldn't that be considered as as a plus it should absolutely be considered but it needs to be weighed the benefits of what we get from. This technology needs to be weighed against what we lose We had the reporter at the beginning of the story. Identifying what you lose if this technology gets out into the wild is the possibility of any anonymity in public ever. That's something that we need to think about Michael's point is that that all use that phrase again. That horses left left the barn. We live in a society. It doesn't matter whether you're in a big city or a small community where there are cameras everywhere things happen and not just social media in terms of what you're uploading But that your movements are marked your movements are recorded. Have we already given up a reasonable expectation of privacy. We have not our courts agree agree that we have not. It's actually not true that our courts have said. We have no reasonable expectation of privacy in public Because we do it's limited it's less But it exists and one reason that we're holding firm on that line is because we have a charter of rights and freedoms that says that. If you're human you deserve service certain threshold of riots complicit are we in this. The APP works in part by scooping up these photos off the Internet off social media sites publicly available photos that we presumably have uploaded so how complicit we in this I think rather than thinking of it as complicity. I think of it as being duped. We have been told for a long time. Hey if you share this. It's convenient if you share this. It's fun if you share this. It's okay because all of our platforms farms have terms of service. That won't let anybody do anything bad with your photos here. You've got an APP. That is incomplete defiance of all those terms of service scooping up the images that you put up to share with your friends and your family and your loved ones handing them over to law enforcement and rendering you subject to search millions of times a day potentially across across the number of services that are using we asked facebook about clearview Ai. And the statement that facebook sent reads in part scraping facebook information or adding adding it to a directory or prohibited by our policies. We are reviewing the claims about this company and will take appropriate action if we find that they are violating our rules. What do you make of that statement? Well the short version of that is they have a responsibility to do something to protect their customers. And if they don't that that speaks volumes about their corporate attitude toward profit over people. What does that responsibility whether it's facebook or youtube prevent Mo to ensure that the photos that you might upload stay day on that site and don't end up elsewhere they have actually entered into a contract with individuals? It's a take it or leave it contract that we don't have any choice but to accept their their terms which places the onus on them to respect it and to safeguard our privacy. The other argument that people might make is people. Make this around privacy issues all the time. If you've done nothing wrong. What are you worried about if the police run your photo and your innocent you're not gonNA come up if you are somebody who has done something And they run your photo. That photo comes up. Then you're going to get caught because you're guilty. What do you make of that? Are you the argument. That if you have nothing to hide You have nothing nothing to worry about is say Honestly it's if you have nothing to hide. What do you have to lose and what we have to lose? Is Our privacy oversea our ability to be anonymous our ability to function as a dignified human without being watched without being listened to without being tracked. And it's it's different when law enforcement does those things because they've got a great deal of power over us up to and including taking away our liberty. This is is an attitude. I think that a lot of people might share. We went out and spoke with some students at the University of Toronto for their thoughts on this technology. Heavily into what he said. There's a lot of cybercrime happening doing now. And there's a lot of threats especially to younger children with predators such. I believe that this will help that. I have an international student visa so engaging the broadcast anywhere like it could be walked or something. Yes I am okay with the idea of being monitor just because I don't think I do have anything to hide and also I think government officials. Some people who are taking advantage of the sort of technology are not using it to spy on every single individual but only individuals that sort of pose a threat to national safety. Not An invasion of privacy like. I don't feel comfortable knowing that people know what my face looks like. They can just pick me out of a crowd and know my name and my history and my back on. So that's creepy is always use a creepy or is it more than that. It's creepy and it's dangerous. It's a threat to democracy. It's a threat to the fundamental freedoms that we value in it'd democracy. Do you think that students concerned that students concern about attending protests and being picked up Because you know they were protesters. Is that something. That's a legitimate concern. That's an extremely legitimate concern. We know in other countries in the world that and potentially in Canada the protesters are very much monitored and we also know that if people are afraid to stand up in public and protests and to speak out for what they believe in that governments cannot be properly held to account so it's a fundamental risk if people are afraid to attend a protest and yet the cameras are everywhere. The photos have been uploaded yet. Now they're being scraped but there there where are we at. Let's just finally in this in this conversation around privacy in this country well when we talk about the cameras being out there right now we have laws governing who gets to access this data and what it gets to be used for. They're not always followed. There's problems with enforcement but we have rules that underlie this what happens with this kind of AI. I technology in this APP is that those rules are being tossed out the window the way the data is collected is probably against Canadian law. And then we've got law enforcement agencies using it without confirming that there that the use of the tool is compliant with Canadian law. That's a big problem. Brenda mcphail thank. You Failed Director of the privacy technology and surveillance project checked with Canadian Civil Liberties Association. We did ask clearview. A I for comment on this. We didn't hear back. We love to hear from you is privacy long-gone subject of concern or something that you are worried about. 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