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LA police limit facial-recognition tech

by RICHARD WINTON AND KEVIN RECTOR LOS ANGELES TIMES | November 19, 2020 at 3:57 a.m.

LOS ANGELES -- 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 who had used a powerful commercial software platform known as Clearview AI without permission.

In a Friday directive sent to the entire agency, Deputy Chief John McMahon, who heads the Police Department's information technology bureau, noted that the only facial recognition system that Los Angeles 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 photographs.

Other platforms such as Clearview, which compare images against millions of images posted on the internet, are not authorized for investigative use, he said.

"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 [facial recognition technology] shall attend the proper training and obtain a certificate of completion prior to using the system."

Clearview could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday.

Civil-liberties advocates have questioned the efficacy of facial recognition software platforms, particularly those such as Clearview, which use images from outside the criminal justice system.

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

In an article published online Tuesday evening, 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."

As of Tuesday, 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.

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

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