Rogue NYPD cops are using facial recognition app Clearview

Rogue NYPD officers are using a sketchy facial-recognition software on their personal phones that the department’s own facial recognition unit doesn’t want to touch because of concerns about security and potential for abuse, The Post has learned. Clearview AI, which has scraped millions of photos from social media and other public sources for its facial recognition program — earning a cease-and-desist order from Twitter — has been pitching itself to law enforcement organizations across the country, including to the NYPD.
The department’s facial-recognition unit tried out the app in early 2019 as part of a complimentary 90-day trial but ultimately passed on it, citing a variety of concerns. Those include app creator Hoan Ton-That’s ties to viddyho.com, which was involved in a widespread phishing scam in 2009, according to police sources and reports. The NYPD was also concerned because Clearview could not say who had access to images once police loaded them into the company’s massive database, sources said.

“They’re playing with fire,” one police insider said.

But that hasn’t stopped dozens of cops from outside the department’s facial recognition unit from using the app “to this day” — with a company spokesperson claiming to The post that the last photo search by asn NYPD cop was registered at 10:56 a.m. Thursday.

“Numerous investigators from around the department are using the app to this day,” with about 36 active accounts using the program for months and logging thousands of searches, the Clearview spokesperson said.

It is not clear if the NYPD officers will face any disciplinary action for using the app, but the department said it was not aware of it being used for any casework.

“While the NYPD looked at it, the facial indication section never used it for investigations,” a police source said, noting that it’s standard practice for the department to review any new tech or equipment.

Users need a law-enforcement email address to sign up for the service, but the rogue NYPD officers are loading it onto their personal devices because they aren’t allowed to download unapproved software on their department phones.

Once they’re in, officers upload a photo of someone they’re looking to identify and are instantly provided with matching pictures and source information from Clearview’s database, which was built by culling images from millions of Web sites including Facebook, LinkedIn, news outlets and even mobile payment app Venmo.
Despite the app’s dubious nature, more than 600 law-enforcement agencies have embraced it in the past year — from local agencies such as the Gainesville Police Department in Florida, to federal operations including the FBI and US Homeland Security, the company told The Post. “Clearview is already the industry standard for law enforcement in the United States, whether it’s local police, state troopers or federal agencies,” the company touts in internal documents obtained by The Post.

But concerns about the app, such as the potential to abuse the system for extracurricular searches, was enough to stop the NYPD from getting on board officially.

“It only takes one cop to put in his ex-girlfriend’s photo in there and see who she’s dating now,” said a police insider.

“They’re playing with fire. It’s going to catch up to them.”

Even though the NYPD ultimately turned down Clearview, the company continued to insist on — or at least strongly imply — a link.

The start-up’s Web site prominently features a video compilation of police investigations aided by facial-recognition technology, including the NYPD’s bust of a kook, Larry Griffin II, who sparked a bomb-scare by leaving two rice cookers in a Downtown Brooklyn subway station in August.

The only problem, the NYPD said, is that Clearview’s app had nothing to do with making the connection.

“There is no institutional relationship between the NYPD and Clearview,” said NYPD Spokeswoman Devora Kaye. “The NYPD 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. Clearview says an agent from a New York-based federal agency, which it declined to name, linked Larry Griffin to a West Virginia arrest.
The start-up company said it was reviewing the cease-and-desist letter from Twitter and denied its tech violated its terms of conditions. Additional reporting by Gabrielle Fonrouge and Aaron Feis

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