The ACLU of Northern California has joined with immigrant advocacy groups the Immigrant Defense Project, Just Futures Law, and Mijente to file a lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection to obtain documents that show if – and how – these bodies use Clearview AI facial recognition. The agencies received a Freedom of Information Act request asking for this information but did not hand it over.
Clearview AI creates AI software that matches people’s faces against personal information and photographs scraped from online services and other websites. The company has garnered plenty of criticism for gathering data without consent. Clearview AI is currently under investigation in Australia, the UK, and the EU for potentially violating privacy laws.
Just how these agencies use Clearview software isn’t public knowledge, but federal contracting records confirm they have paid Clearview for access to the technology. The three groups requested information through a Freedom of Information request but were rebuffed, so they filed the suit to see the intricacies of these contracts.
“With this FOIA, we have a lot of questions. How is ICE using this? Who are they using it on? Are there any accountability measures in place?” explains Sejal Zota, the co-founder and legal director of Just Futures. “At the very least, we want to know what’s happening.” The lawsuit is more about ensuring the public knows what is happening, rather than assessing if the agencies are breaking laws with the technology.
It became all too common for government agencies to ignore FOIA requests during the Trump Administration. While the Biden administration has promised more open transparency and a faster response to requests, it’s not unusual to have to sue these particular agencies to get results.
Surveillance technologies like the ones developed by Clearview AI make it easier for law enforcement to track people with just a name, address, or a low-quality picture of their face. The data used is taken without consent of the person being tracked. This is what makes Clearview AI so concerning to privacy groups and advocates. The company has taken the reach of invasive AI even further by scraping and using data without consent. Such a tool being in the hands of ICE and the DHS raises red flags because it means that people could be putting their lives – as well as the lives of their family – at risk just by using the internet.
Mijente hopes the lawsuit will encourage the administration to pay attention to surveillance technologies, given the Biden administration’s promise to review the role DHS plays in detaining immigrants.