Several Idaho Police Departments Have Used Clearview AI Tech

Various Idaho law enforcement agencies are testing out controversial facial recognition software, Clearview AI.

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(TNS) — Several Idaho law enforcement agencies have had access to a controversial facial recognition app that is used to identify individuals, according to a report from Buzzfeed News.

Among the Idaho agencies listed that used Clearview AI's app — the company is based in New York City — are the Treasure Valley's two largest: the Boise Police Department and the Ada County Sheriff's Office. Other entities listed in the report are the Gem County Sheriff's Office, Pocatello Police Department, Rexburg Police Department and Bonner County Sheriff's Office.
 
Clearwater AI's facial recognition app is designed with law enforcement agencies in mind, and its use has been scrutinized nationwide by critics as overly intrusive. The Buzzfeed News report outlines how some police agencies have used the app to run thousands of searches, looking for certain suspects and individuals.
 
In Boise, the technology was used in just a handful of cases, according to BPD spokesperson Haley Williams. In an email to the Statesman on Tuesday, Williams said there were three cases where the use of Clearview AI led to identifying individuals — all of whom were matched through photos posted on arrests.org.
 
In one instance, the department scanned a photo of an elderly woman who was lost and could not remember where she lived. The technology returned a possible match, and an officer later confirmed it was the same person. She was driven back to her home. In another instance, police used Clearview AI to match a photo of an assault suspect caught on security camera to an Ada County Jail booking photo from arrests.org. Williams said police developed other information in the case that identified the suspect. In a third instance, a man accused of disorderly conduct refused to give police his name. A photo was taken and run through Clearview AI, which returned a possible match through an Ada County Jail photo on arrests.org. When the man was taken to the jail, he was identified, and his ID and possible match through Clearview were the same.
 
The Boise Police Department did not indicate when these three instances took place and did not identify the people who were run through Clearview AI's search engine. However, the matches would have taken place between January and June of 2020, when the department was doing a trial of the technology. Williams said only one person had access to the app. BPD decided not to use the technology long-term, though Williams said in an email Tuesday that police believed the results were "promising."
 
Buzzfeed reported that Boise police ran between 11 and 50 searches through Clearview AI.
"At the conclusion of the trial, it was determined that, while the technology proved promising and potentially valuable under certain conditions and applications, the benefits did not outweigh the potential concerns surrounding facial recognition and its use in our community at this time," Williams said.
 
Ada County Sheriff's Office spokesman Patrick Orr initially told Buzzfeed News that the department did not use the technology and had no plans to do so. However, Orr told the Statesman on Tuesday that since the Buzzfeed report was published, the Sheriff's Office learned that a detective ran a demo of the Clearview software to see how it worked, but did not use it in any cases. Buzzfeed said its data showed that the Sheriff's Office ran 6-10 searches on the app. Orr said ACSO has no plans to use the software in the future. Buzzfeed's reporting showed that employees using the app without an administrator's knowledge happened often. Clearview AI distributed the technology widely and made the tool accessible to many law enforcement agencies free of charge.
 
The city of Boise experienced a bit of blowback in July 2019 over the use of facial recognition technology in city buildings. The city proposed and later scrapped a proposal to have the technology at City Hall and City Hall West. The move was intended to keep out people who had been banned from city buildings. A Meridian-based company, CompuNet, was supposed to be paid $31,000 for the technology.
 
Then-Boise Mayor David Bieter later announced that the facial recognition setup would not be implemented, saying in a news release that after researching the issue, "the city is concerned with how this technology has been used in other cities."
 
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