Clearview AI, a facial-recognition app law enforcement uses to track down criminals, has seen a surge in use since the Capitol Hill riots on Wednesday, according to the company’s CEO.
“There was a 26 percent increase of searches over our usual weekday search volume,” Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That told the New York Times.
There are many online photos and videos of rioters, often depicted not wearing masks, storming the Capitol. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has posted the faces of dozens of them and has asked the public for help in identifying them.
Local police departments across the country are heeding the FBI’s call.
Law enforcement also uses traditional facial recognition tools, like databases containing government-provided photos such as mugshots and driver’s licenses.
But Clearview, which, according to the company, is used by 2,400 law enforcement agencies, relies on a database of more than three billion photos from social media sites and other websites open to the public.
When an officer runs a search using the app, the app gives several links to websites where that person’s face has appeared.
Because the app has been so effective, Clearview’s existence has become controversial.
Last year, the New York Times published an investigation into the startup company, raising issues of privacy with its massive database of photos.
The company admitted in February 2020 that its entire client list had been stolen, including how many users each client has, and how many searches each client has completed using the service.
The company’s CEO also made headlines when he said he had a First Amendment right to go through billions of photos to add to his firm’s three-billion photo database.