The contract comes after months of scrutiny of Clearview’s privacy practices
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) signed a contract with facial recognition company Clearview AI this week for “mission support,” government contracting records show (as first spotted by the tech accountability nonprofit Tech Inquiry). The purchase order for $224,000 describes “clearview licenses” and lists “ICE mission support dallas” as the contracting office.
ICE is known to use facial recognition technology; last month, The Washington Post reported the agency, along with the FBI, had accessed state drivers’ license databases — a veritable facial recognition gold mine, as the Post termed it — but without the knowledge or consent of drivers. The agency has been criticized for its practices at the US southern border, which has included separating immigrant children from their families and detaining refugees indefinitely.
“Clearview AI’s agreement is with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which uses our technology for their Child Exploitation Unit and ongoing criminal investigations,” Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That said in an emailed statement to The Verge. “Clearview AI has enabled HSI to rescue children across the country from sexual abuse and exploitation.”
Clearview AI has been in the spotlight since a January investigation from The New York Times showed that its facial recognition technology was in widespread use among law enforcement agencies and private companies. The technology could identify someone just from a photo and put names to faces through its trove of 3 billion images scraped from social media sites — often against the platforms’ rules.
Federal records also show Clearview signed a $50,000 contract with the US Air Force in December 2019 in response to an “open call for innovative defense-related dual-purpose technologies/solutions with a clear airforce stakeholder need.”
In May, Clearview said it would stop selling its app to private companies and would “avoid transacting with non-governmental customers anywhere.” As first reported by BuzzFeed News, thousands of companies, including the NBA, Bank of America, Macy’s, and Walmart, were discovered to be using Clearview’s technology. However, the ICE contract would appear to comply with Clearview’s earlier pledge.
Several tech companies have sent cease and desist orders to Clearview requesting it remove any data culled from social media posts. And the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Clearview in May for violating the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). The ACLU alleged the company illegally collected information on citizens of Illinois without their consent, later selling access to the information to law enforcement and private companies.