Clearview AI worked to build a national database of every mug shot taken in the United States during the past 15 years, according to an email obtained by OneZero through a public records request.
The email, sent by a representative for Clearview AI in August 2019, was in response to an inquiry from the Green Bay Police Department in Wisconsin, which had asked if there was a way to upload its own mug shots to Clearview AI’s app.
“We are… working to acquire all U.S. mugshots nationally from the last 15 years, so once we have that integrated in a few months’ time it might just be superfluous anyway,” wrote the Clearview AI employee, whose name was redacted.
Clearview AI is best known for scraping the public internet, including social media, for billions of images to power its facial recognition app, which was first reported on by the New York Times. Some of those images are pulled from online repositories of mug shots, like Rapsheets.org and Arrests.org, according to other emails obtained by OneZero. Acquiring a national mug shot database would make Clearview AI an even more powerful tool for police departments, which would be able to easily match a photograph of an individual against their criminal history.
Clearview AI did not immediately respond to a request for comment from OneZero. It is unclear whether the company ultimately succeeded in acquiring such a database.
It’s unclear how many images a national database of mug shots would add to the online sources Clearview AI has already scraped. For context, the FBI’s national facial recognition database contains 30 million mug shots. Vigilant Solutions, another facial recognition company, has also compiled a database of 15 million mug shots from public sources.
The Clearview AI employee also told the Green Bay Police Department that it was developing a way for its customers to upload their own images to the company’s app. This would allow police departments to combine their databases with Clearview AI’s.
Lisa M. Wachowski, an office manager at the Green Bay Police Department, told OneZero that the department ultimately did not upload mug shots to Clearview AI’s app.
Clearview AI is currently working with more than 2,200 organizations around the world, including law enforcement agencies, according to a report from BuzzFeed News.
“We are always happy to cut a deal, especially with our smaller departments,” a Clearview employee wrote in the same email to the Green Bay Police Department.