New Jersey police officers are now barred from using a facial recognition app made by a start-up that has licensed its groundbreaking technology to hundreds of law enforcement agencies around the country.
Gurbir S. Grewal, New Jersey’s attorney general, told state prosecutors in all 21 counties on Friday that police officers should stop using the Clearview AI app.
The New York Times reported last week that Clearview had amassed a database of more than three billion photos across the web — including sites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Venmo. The vast database powers an app that can match people to their online photos and link back to the sites the images came from.
“Until this week, I had not heard of Clearview AI,” Mr. Grewal said in an interview. “I was troubled. The reporting raised questions about data privacy, about cybersecurity, about law enforcement security, about the integrity of our investigations.”
His order to prosecutors was reported earlier by NJ.com.
In a promotional video posted to its website this week, Clearview included images of Mr. Grewal because the company said its app had played a role last year in Operation Open Door, a New Jersey police sting that led to the arrest of 19 people accused of being child predators.
“I was surprised they used my image and the office to promote the product online,” said Mr. Grewal, who confirmed that Clearview’s app had been used to identify one of the people in the sting. “I was troubled they were sharing information about ongoing criminal prosecutions.”
Mr. Grewal’s office sent Clearview a cease-and-desist letter that asked the company to stop using the office and its investigations to promote its products.
“We’ve received the attorney general’s letter and are complying,” said Tor Ekeland, Clearview’s lawyer. “The video has been removed.”
The video also included a claim that the New York Police Department had used Clearview’s app to identify a man who was accused of planting rice cookers made to resemble bombs around the city. As reported by BuzzFeed, the Police Department said the app had played no role in the case.
“There is no institutional relationship between the N.Y.P.D. and Clearview,” said Devora Kaye, a spokeswoman for the department. “The N.Y.P.D. did not rely on Clearview technology to identify the suspect in the Aug. 16 rice cooker incident. The N.Y.P.D. identified the suspect using the department’s facial recognition practice, where a still image from a surveillance video was compared to a pool of lawfully possessed arrest photos.”
Some officers in the Police Department are said to be using the Clearview app without official authorization, The New York Post reported on Thursday.
In addition to placing a moratorium on the Clearview app, the New Jersey attorney general’s office has asked the state’s Division of Criminal Justice to look into how state law enforcement agencies have used the app. Mr. Grewal wants to know which ones are using “this product or products like it,” and what information those companies are tracking about police investigations and searches.
An earlier episode in which police officers received calls from the company after uploading a photo of a Times reporter to the app indicated that Clearview has the ability to monitor whom law enforcement is searching for.
Mr. Grewal said that his office would not have to preapprove use of a tool like Clearview AI by the police, but that maybe it should. His office reviews, for example, new forms of less-than-lethal ammunition to make sure that it’s a “safe tool to have out there.”
“I’m not categorically opposed to using any of these types of tools or technologies that make it easier for us to solve crimes, and to catch child predators or other dangerous criminals,” Mr. Grewal said. “But we need to have a full understanding of what is happening here and ensure there are appropriate safeguards.”
This week, Clearview also received questions from United States senators, as well as a letter from Twitter demanding that the start-up stop scraping photos from its site.