US Army Now Using Clearview's Unproven Tech To Investigate Crimes
from the sole-source-provider-of-a-service-no-one-else-is-willing-to-create dept
We can add another government agency to the list of entities that have been suckered in by Clearview’s highly questionable sales pitches about its unproven tech: the US Army. [Paywall ahead, but alternatives abound.]
The US Army has a contract with Clearview AI, according to documents that reveal the controversial facial-recognition startup making bold claims to the military about capabilities such as “criminal network discovery” and “force protection and area security.”
The contract, obtained with other documents by Insider via public-records request, shows the US military awarding a discounted contract for Clearview to work with the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, which investigates serious crimes that could involve active service members or civilian workers for the Army.
Fantastic. Now, let’s back up a bit to the opening paragraph. By “highly questionable,” I mean many of Clearview’s assertions about its crime fighting efficacy have been directly contradicted by law enforcement agencies who’ve test-driven the product. And by “unproven,” I mean Clearview has never submitted its facial recognition AI to outside, independent testing — like that performed by the NIST. And by “suckered in,” I mean the Army fell for all of it, converting its test run of Clearview’s tech into a sole-source contract for fifteen licenses.
The memo [PDF] obtained by Business Insider says Clearview is one of a kind.
Clearview Al provides unique and innovative capability with regard to facial recognition technology and its use by law enforcement organizations. The 502d MP BN (CID) has been using this tool on a trial basis and has seen an increase of 15%- 25% success in positively identifying potential subject, victims and witnesses in possible crimes under Army CID jusridiction. They were the only company capable of providing the service.
I’m not sure about that last sentence. It would read better as “the only company willing to provide the service.” Unlike other, more reputable facial recognition tech providers, Clearview’s database of facial photos and personal information is scraped from thousands of public websites and social media services. It isn’t the only company capable of doing this. But so far, it’s been the only one willing to scrape the web and sell access to its billions of harvested images.
That may make Clearview unique. But it doesn’t make it good or reputable or tolerable. And if the CID is seeing more positive identifications, it’s only because it has more images to work with. What it doesn’t have is a (excuse the term) battle-tested tech solution.
The claims made by the Army and the claims made by Clearview to the Army haven’t been supported by any evidence from either party. Multiple requests for comments, clarifications, or supporting evidence went ignored by both the Army CID and its preferred facial recognition tech provider. Clearview also declined to explain what its marketing material [PDF] means when it claims its AI can help with “force protection and area security” or assist investigators in uncovering “criminal networks.”
It also didn’t explain this claim, which was almost immediately refuted by the party namechecked in the bullet point.
Later in the flyer, Clearview says that it’s been “rated 99.6% accurate” per an accuracy benchmark created by the University of Washington’s MegaFace image dataset. This claim hasn’t been independently verified by any third party.
“We don’t know how they tested their software, and we haven’t evaluated their algorithms,” Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman, former head of the MegaFace challenge, told Insider. “The MegaFace challenge has been closed for a while now, and no one on our teams is working with it.”
This tracks with Clearview’s previous accuracy assertions. It makes claims but refuses to allow any outside testing of its algorithm. Until it’s willing to do that, there’s no reason anyone — much less the investigative wing of the US Army — should test drive its tech, much less purchase fifteen licenses. The CID is playing with fire here, and those overseeing this division should be demanding answers from Clearview, and blocking access to its tech until it has something more solid than the company’s questionable accuracy claims to work with.