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Clearview CEO claims company's database of scraped images is now 30 billion strong

Police have used the software nearly 1 million times, according to Hoan Ton-That.

Thomas Peter / Reuters

Clearview AI, the controversial facial recognition software used by at least 3,100 law enforcement agencies across the US, has scrapped more than 30 billion images from social media platforms like Facebook. CEO Hoan Ton-That shared the statistic in a recent interview with BBC News (via Gizmodo) where he also said the company had run nearly 1 million searches for US police.

Last March, Clearview disclosed its database featured more than 20 billion “publicly available” images, meaning the platform has grown by a staggering 50 percent over the past year. While Engadget cannot confirm those figures, they suggest the company, despite recent setbacks at the hands of groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and legal threats from platform holders, has found no shortage of interest for its services.

In a rare admission, the Miami Police Department revealed it uses Clearview AI to investigate all manner of crimes, including everything from theft to murder. Assistant Chief of Police Armando Aguilar said the force has used the technology about 450 times per year. “We don’t make an arrest because an algorithm tells us to,” he told BBC News. "We either put that name in a photographic line-up or we go about solving the case through traditional means."

Ton-That told BBC News he was not aware of any cases where Clearview mistakenly identified someone. Verifying that claim is difficult due to a lack of data and transparency around the use of facial recognition technology. For instance, in the recent wrongful arrest of Randal Reid, a Black man who was falsely accused of stealing in a state he had never visited, it’s unclear if police obtained the false match that led to the arrest using Clearview AI or MorphoTrak, a competing facial recognition system. Ton-That said wrongful arrests are the result of "poor policing.”

A handful of US cities, including Boston and San Francisco, have passed legislation restricting police and government use of facial recognition technologies. Federal action on the subject has been slow. In 2021, a group of 20 lawmakers led by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the Fourth Amendment is Not For Sale Act, a bill that seeks to ban law enforcement and intelligence agencies from buying data from Clearview. The legislation has yet to pass, however.