LAPD Bans Unauthorized Facial Recognition Platforms

LAPD Bans Unauthorized Facial Recognition Platforms
Los Angeles Police Department officers wear facial covering while monitoring an "Open California" rally in downtown Los Angeles, on April 22, 2020. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
City News Service

LOS ANGELES (CNS)—The Los Angeles Police Department has barred officers and detectives from using outside facial recognition platforms in their investigations after uncovering a handful of detectives had used a powerful commercial software platform known as Clearview AI without permission, it was reported today.

In a Nov. 13 directive sent to the entire agency, Deputy Chief John McMahon, who heads the LAPD’s information technology bureau, noted that the only facial recognition system that LAPD officers are authorized to use is provided through the Los Angeles County Regional Identification System, which is maintained by the county and compares images input by officers against criminal booking photograph, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Other platforms like Clearview, which compare images against millions of images posted on the internet, are not authorized for investigative use, McMahon said, according to The Los Angeles Times.

“Department personnel shall not use third-party commercial facial recognition services or conduct facial recognition searches on behalf of outside agencies,” McMahon wrote. “Moreover, any department personnel using FRT shall attend the proper training and obtain a certificate of completion prior to using the system.'’

Civil liberties advocates have questioned the efficacy of facial recognition software platforms, particularly those like Clearview, which use images from outside the criminal justice system. Some critics and researchers have identified racial bias in facial recognition results.

LAPD Assistant Chief Horace Frank said the department began investigating the use of systems like Clearview by LAPD officers after it was contacted recently by BuzzFeed News, which said it had a list of more than two dozen LAPD officers who had purportedly used the outside software.

As of Nov. 17, Frank said the department had identified only two investigators who used Clearview AI on an investigation, though others appeared to have tinkered with the platform using noninvestigative images. Some officers whose names were shared with the department by BuzzFeed denied ever using the Clearview platform, Frank said. In the two instances in which LAPD officers did use the platform in investigations, images from a security camera were compared against the Clearview database, Frank said. He said he is aware of one arrest in a case in which the technology was used, but did not know what role if any the facial recognition tool played in that arrest.

Frank said no arrests are made solely on the strength of a facial recognition match, and all require additional evidence.

In an article published online the evening of Nov. 17, BuzzFeed reported that documents it had reviewed “showed more than 25 LAPD employees had performed nearly 475 searches using Clearview AI as of earlier this year.”

Some officers whose names were shared with the department by BuzzFeed denied ever using the Clearview platform, Frank said.

While officers have now been instructed not to use the Clearview system, those who did have not been punished, as they broke no rules, Frank said.