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Facial Recognition and the Danger of Automated Authoritarianism

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Clearview AI, a tech startup, has created an app that enables law enforcement agencies to match photographs to its database of over 3 billion photos scraped from millions of public websites including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Venmo. For comparison, the FBI's photo database contains only 640 million images. According to The New York Times, some 600 law-enforcement departments, including federal, state, and local agencies, have already used Clearview AI's technology. "You take a picture of a person, upload it and get to see public photos of that person, along with links to where those photos appeared," explained the Times.

Moreover, Clearview AI's technology doesn't need straight-ahead mugshots to work effectively. "With Clearview, you can use photos that aren't perfect," Detective Sgt. Nick Ferrara of the Gainesville, Florida, police department told the Times. "A person can be wearing a hat or glasses, or it can be a profile shot or partial view of their face." No outside tests for the app's accuracy have been publicly reported, but the company claims in a 2019 FAQ to users that it:

…has the most accurate facial identification software in the world, with a 98.6% accuracy rate. This does not mean that you will get matches for 98.6% of your searches, but you will almost never get a false positive. You will either get a correct match or no results. We have a 30-60% hit rate, but we are........

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