A Black man having his face scanned by facial recognition next to a screenshot of a letter from four lawmakers urging several federal agencies to stop using Clearview AI.

Prostock-studio/Shutterstock (Licensed) markey.senate.gov (Fair Use)

Democrats warn that feds using Clearview AI facial recognition could ‘eliminate public anonymity’

'Clearview AI's technology could eliminate public anonymity in the United States.'


Andrew Wyrich


Posted on Feb 9, 2022   Updated on Feb 14, 2022, 2:04 pm CST

A group of Democrats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives are urging several federal agencies to stop using the facial recognition software by Clearview AI.

Clearview AI is the controversial startup that created a database of billions of people’s photos without their knowledge by scraping public images from the internet and social media sites. A report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) last year noted that the Department of Justice, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of the Interior all used the company’s technology.

In letters to those agencies on Wednesday, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) called on them to stop using the technology because it poses “a serious threat to the public’s civil liberties and privacy rights,” adding that Clearview AI was “particularly dangerous.”

The use of facial recognition technology, particularly by police and the government, has been highly criticized. The technology has been found to have a racial bias. All four of the lawmakers introduced a bill, the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act, that would place a moratorium on the use of the technology by the federal government that could only be lifted by an act of Congress.

“Clearview AI’s technology could eliminate public anonymity in the United States,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to the agencies.

The four lawmakers noted that the scraping of images without permission could be “fundamentally dismantling” to the expectations of Americans being in public without being identified. This could lead, the lawmakers said, to people not participating in marches or rallies for fear of being identified.

The letters also note the technology’s racial bias, with lawmakers citing a National Institute of Standards and Technology study that found the Black, Brown, and Asian people were “up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified than white male faces.” They also note how the technology leads to over-policing and infringement of privacy in communities of color.

“Use of increasingly powerful technologies like Clearview AI’s have the concerning potential to violate Americans’ privacy rights and exacerbate existing injustices. Therefore, as the authors of the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act—which would halt a federal agency or official from using these technologies—we urge you to stop use of facial recognition tools, including Clearview AI’s products,” the letter reads.

The request by the four lawmakers comes just days after the Internal Revenue Service said it would “transition away” from its plan to use facial recognition software from the company ID.me after it faced immense pushback from lawmakers and advocacy groups.

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*First Published: Feb 9, 2022, 4:45 pm CST