Months before facial recognition company Clearview AI was on the front page of the New York Times, the company was quietly advertising to police departments across the country, emails obtained by OneZero show.
Clearview AI emailed advertisements to police departments in August 2019 with the subject line “How To Solve Crimes Instantly With Face Search Technology,” using the Fraternal Order of Police’s online platform FOPConnect.
“Clearview is like Google Search for faces,” the ad copy reads. “It only takes one photo of a suspect’s face, one quick tap on your cell phone or computer, and one second of search time. Get results from mug shots, social media, and other publicly available sources.”
FOPConnect is operated by 911Media, which has previously advertised an email list with more than 60,000 recipients, including police departments around the country. The FOP is a U.S. law enforcement labor organization with around 350,000 members. On a phone call with OneZero, a member of 911Media said the Clearview email was an advertisement but declined to comment further. Clearview also did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“Strategic ad buys will grow your brand recognition in the nationwide public safety community,” 911Media wrote in the 2019 advertising brochure. “Position your brand with law enforcement across the country and create a relationship with these officers.”
OneZero obtained a month’s worth of emails sent by FOPConnect to determine whether facial recognition was a typical advertisement for the mailing list. Of six other emails sent by FOPConnect in August 2019 to the police department of Green Bay, Wisconsin, three were for education opportunities, one was for fundraising strategies, another was a training platform, and the last was speech recognition software for easier dictation of notes.
“Strategic ad buys will grow your brand recognition in the nationwide public safety community.”
By the time Green Bay police received the email, it had already trialed Clearview’s software. The department heard about Clearview AI from the Wisconsin Statewide Intelligence Center, which was also testing the tech, according to Green Bay Police Department office coordinator Lisa Wachowski.
Clearview’s marketing efforts went beyond the August email to FOPConnect. The company sponsored a report in Police Magazine on facial recognition and was slated to speak in September on two panels at a security conference, according to an email sent by conference organizers obtained by Freddy Martinez, policy analyst at Open the Government.
Former Clearview CEO Richard Schwartz gave a talk in September 2019 at the ISS World North America, a conference for law enforcement and intelligence professionals, titled “How Intelligence + Image Recognition Can Save a Risk-Prone World.” He also sat on a panel called “Best Practices for Deploying a Facial Recognition Program.” A conference organizer confirmed that Clearview participated in the conference.
The New York Times noted in its January exposé on Clearview AI that the company also tapped Republican influencers to sell the technology and placed advertisements on CrimeDex, a platform for financial crime investigators.
At least some law enforcement officers were not receptive to Clearview’s pitch. Emails obtained by OneZero from a police department in Irving, Texas, reveal one police sergeant’s issues with the technology. “This is exactly the kind of bullshit we’ve been talking about that will get the technology [facial recognition] shut down for law enforcement,” he wrote.
Clearview AI has come under scrutiny in the past month for allegedly scraping images from publicly accessible websites on the internet, like Facebook and LinkedIn, and funneling those images into a facial recognition database that was then sold to law enforcement, according to the New York Times exposé. BuzzFeed News later reported that 2,200 organizations across the world had used Clearview AI.
Clearview is now facing a lawsuit that cites Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act, which prohibits the collection of biometric information in that state without consent.