Clearview AI’s Surveillance Dystopia Isn’t New for People of Color
Facial recognition technology is already biased against marginalized groups
Many Americans are waking up to a potential surveillance “dystopia” created from billions of images they personally uploaded to the internet. The tiny company responsible, Clearview AI, claims to have scraped 3 billion photos from services like Facebook and YouTube to construct a sprawling facial recognition database used by law enforcement agencies across the country, according to a recent New York Times report by Kashmir Hill. The piece rightfully stoked fears about mass surveillance — but marginalized communities have been living with these concerns for years.
“We need a law to save us from dystopia,” the Times’ Charlie Warzel wrote after the piece was published. But these dystopic circumstances already exist for people of color. For decades they have spoken of the harm caused by surveillance technology to their communities, which are far likelier to be subjected to facial recognition tools. Not only are Asian, Black, and Indigenous people frequently misidentified by these systems — because the algorithms that power them may contain the biases of their creators — they’re also significantly overrepresented in law enforcement databases due to racial profiling and over-policing.
“Surveillance tools like face recognition, including the recently disclosed Clearview program, aggravate existing racial disparities in the criminal justice system.”
What is notable about Clearview AI is not so much its particular technology, but that, because of how it collects data, communities not historically oppressed by the surveillance state may feel its impact.
“Surveillance tools like face recognition, including the recently disclosed Clearview program, aggravate existing racial disparities in the criminal justice system,” said Adam Schwartz, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights nonprofit and advocacy group.
Clearview AI’s clientele reportedly includes federal and local law enforcement such as sheriff’s departments and the Federal…