Both the police and technology companies talk about public "consent" in their work. But what if express consent no longer has to be sought?by Adam Smith / February 3, 2020 / Leave a comment
We live in an age of data. The average web site shares information with dozens of third-party companies based on your clicks. Business and concert organisers use your phone’s Bluetooth and Wi-Fi networks to count, track, and collect smartphone information from the crowds. And, of course, we upload content to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a myriad of other web sites.
It’s almost inevitable, then, that a company like Clearview AI would come into existence. As reported by the New York Times, Clearview is a US technology company that scrapes photos from social media sites and uses algorithms to build a giant searchable database of faces.
Clearview’s service allows users to upload an image of a person, and search through the app’s database of three billion images to find public photos of the same person. This technology has already been used by numerous police departments, who have already spent tens of thousands of dollars on it, though the New York Times notes that many representatives of sites used by Clearview “said their policies prohibit such scraping.”
A new age of policing
The revelation that police forces are using cutting-edge identification technology should not be surprising. Last month, the Metropolitan Police said it would be rolling out live facial recognition technology in select areas of the capital based on “bespoke” lists to “locate serious offenders.”
Not only are there valid debates to be had about the accuracy of such systems and concerns about racial profiling: there are also major concerns about what happens when the technology industry becomes intertwined with the police.
Policing in the UK has, at heart, been philosophically legitimated on public consent. From 1829, in the United Kingdom, every new police officer was issued “General Instructions” which states: “The power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.”
In September last year, the Metropolitan Police revealed that it had been supplying images for a facial recognition database then used to scan people who visited a local estate between 2016 and 2018. The police initially denied any involvement with the scheme, but later admitted that was “incorrect.” The estate’s developer Argent issued a statement saying “The system was used only…