Senator Ed Markey is warning that the use of Clearview AI's facial-recognition technology in order to combat the current public health emergency could pose a threat to people's privacy.
“Technology has an important role to play in mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic, but this health crisis cannot justify using unreliable surveillance tools that could undermine our privacy rights,” Markey (D-Massachusetts) says in a letter to Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That.
Markey's letter follows an NBC report that Clearview is talking with authorities about using its facial-recognition technology to trace the locations visited by people diagnosed with COVID-19, in order to figure out who else may have been exposed to the virus.
“All efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic should be free from harmful bias, but Clearview has apparently not subjected its technology to rigorous accuracy and bias testing,” Markey writes.
“The steps Clearview has taken to test the accuracy of your product fail to convincingly demonstrate that your technology is free of bias and technological flaws.”
He is asking the company to provide information about which state and federal government entities it has agreements with for COVID-19 contact tracing.
Markey is also asking questions about the company's technology, including what “evidence-based rationale” exists for using facial recognition to engage in contact tracking.
Clearview came to public attention in January, when The New York Times reported that the tech company had scraped billions of photos from social media platforms in order to create a faceprint database, which it then sold to police departments across the country.
Since then Twitter, Google, Facebook and other tech companies have demanded that Clearview stop scraping their sites for photos. The company has also faced questions on Capitol Hill, and has been hit with at least half a dozen privacy lawsuits.
It has also emerged since January that Clearview's client list may extend beyond law enforcement authorities.
While the company has not publicly disclosed names of its customers, BuzzFeed reported that Clearview's clients include US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, Macy’s, and a conservative think tank.