Civil rights groups call for Austin to ban law enforcement’s use of facial recognition software

April 7, 2021

The call comes after a bombshell report from Buzzfeed shows that Austin Police Department officers may used Clearview AI software

Austin— Grassroots Leadership and Just Futures Law today called on the Austin City Council to take proactive steps to ban law enforcement’s use of facial recognition software following a series of exposés on the company Clearview AI.

Clearview AI’s facial recognition tool allows for instantaneous identification and tracking of people by law enforcement. Clearview AI has amassed database of over three billion facial scans by scraping photos from websites like Facebook and Twitter, and storing user images without permission. This database is then sold to law enforcement departments, government agencies, and private companies across the world. Multiple lawsuits allege that Clearview’s surveillance technology violates privacy rights and facilitates government monitoring of protesters, immigrants, and communities of color. The company also has troubling ties to the far-right.

Today, Buzzfeed News published a bombshell report and an interactive database showing more than 7,000 individuals and 2,000 public agencies had accessed the database of images maintained by Clearview AI.

Approximately 100 local law enforcement agencies in Texas may have had officers access the Clearview AI database. The database, whose accuracy Buzzfeed said Clearview would neither confirm nor deny, listed between 11-50 searches stemming from the Austin Police Department (APD).

APD responded to Buzzfeed that its “Police Technology Unit is not familiar with this company and has not worked with them.” However, Buzzfeed also reported that many law enforcement leaders were unaware that employees were using the Clearview database.

In Austin, local advocates and legal experts are calling on City officials to address the report, investigate whether APD officers used the software, and ban the use of facial recognition software by local law enforcement agencies and federal agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which used the database more than 2,200 times as of February 2020.

“Clearview AI’s software has the potential to completely destroy privacy as we know it, adding to the criminalization that is already widespread in communities of color,” said Claudia Muñoz, co-Executive Director of Austin-based Grassroots Leadership. “Austin needs to be proactive about this and ban the use of facial recognition software amongst its employees, especially law enforcement agencies.”

“Communities in Austin and beyond should be able to lead their lives without the fear of surveillance and criminalization,” said Julie Mao, attorney at Just Futures Law, a law project working to support grassroots organizations. “Police departments that deploy Clearview AI make it impossible to walk down the street without fear that your likeness can be captured by the company, and used against you any time in the future. There can be no meaningful privacy in a society with Clearview AI.”

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Grassroots Leadership is an Austin, Texas-based national organization that works for a more just society where prison profiteering, mass incarceration, deportation, and criminalization are things of the past. Follow us @Grassroots_News.

Just Futures Law is a transformative legal organization that defends and builds the power of immigrants’ rights and criminal justice organizers and base-building community groups working to disrupt and dismantle our deportation and mass incarceration systems. Follow us @JustFuturesLaw.

Contact: 
Contact: Maria Reza, mreza@grassrootsleadership.org