The controversial facial recognition software maker Clearview AI has a new contract with ICE, the most controversial U.S. government agency. Clearview was already known to work with the branch of Homeland Security fiercely criticized for implementing the Trump administration’s harsh immigration policies. The new contract makes it clear that relationship is ongoing — and that Clearview isn’t just playing a bit part in tech’s lucrative scrum for federal contracts.
First spotted by tech watchdog Tech Inquiry, the new contract is worth $224,000 and will provide the agency with what is only described as “Clearview licenses,” likely just access to the company’s software services. According to the award notice, the funding office for the contract is Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a division within ICE that focuses on “cross-border criminal activity,” including drug and human trafficking. Four companies competed for the contract.
Clearview is no stranger to controversy. Its somewhat mysterious facial recognition software allows clients to upload a photo of anyone to cross-reference it against a massive database full of photos scraped from online sources, including social networks. Civil liberties groups see Clearview’s tech as a privacy nightmare, but for any law enforcement agency tasked with tracking down people, it’s a dream come true.
Clearview has faced near-constant scrutiny from privacy advocates and even large tech companies since the quiet company was exposed in a report this January. Facebook, Google, Linkedin, Twitter and YouTube have all denounced Clearview’s use of data scraped from their platforms, with some of those companies even authoring cease-and-desist letters for violating their terms of service.
In May, the ACLU announced that it was suing Clearview over privacy violations. That suit wields the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) against the company, the same law that previously extracted a $550 million settlement from Facebook on behalf of Illinois residents.
“Companies like Clearview will end privacy as we know it, and must be stopped,” ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Nathan Freed Wessler said of the lawsuit.