Ukraine uses facial recognition in the war against Russia. The Department of Defense has been using the facial recognition software from the company Clearview AI since last Saturday. Clearview’s CEO reported this to the Reuters news agency. Ukraine uses the software, among other things, to identify Russian soldiers.
Track down attackers and identify the dead
Clearview AI, an American startup, offered its services to Ukraine itself. The technology will enable the country to track down Russian soldiers, counter disinformation and identify victims. Ukraine will get free access to Clearview AI’s faces search engine, Clearview adviser and former diplomat Lee Wolosky told Reuters. He added that this search engine allows authorities to identify ‘persons of interest’ at checkpoints.
After Russia invaded Ukraine, Clearview chief executive Hoan Ton-That sent a letter to Kiev offering help. This got things rolling. In the letter, Ton-That said the technology could be used for a variety of purposes. He wrote, among other things, about reuniting refugees who have been separated from their families. He also mentioned identifying Russian soldiers and helping to debunk fake news on social media related to the war.
The exact purpose for which the Ukrainian Defense Ministry is using the technology is unclear, according to Ton-That. Other parts of the Ukrainian government are expected to deploy facial recognition technology in the coming days, Ton-That and Wolosky told Reuters.
Clearview does not offer its services to Russia.
Huge database of Russian social media
According to Ton-That, co-founder of Clearview, his startup has more than two billion images from the Russian social media service VKontakte at its disposal. In total, the database contains more than ten billion photos. On the basis of this, Ukraine can identify killed victims more easily than by matching fingerprints. The technology also works when there is facial damage, according to Ton-That.
Wolosky stated that Clearview’s dataset containing VKontakte’s images is more extensive than that of PimEyes; a publicly available search engine that has historically been used to identify individuals in war photographs.
Criticism of Clearview
Not everyone is excited about using facial recognition technology during the war. According to Albert Fox Cahn, director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project in New York, a mismatch can lead to civilian deaths. He cites as an example unfair arrests as a result of the use of facial recognition by the police. “We’ll see well-intentioned technology backfire and harm the people it’s supposed to help,” Cahn told Reuters.
Ton-That argues that Clearview should never be used as the sole source of identification. Nor does he want the technology to be used in a way that violates the Geneva Conventions, which set legal standards for humanitarian treatment in wartime. According to Ton-That, users cannot simply access the database. They must first undergo training. In addition, users are required to enter a case number and reason before starting a search. These rules also apply to users in Ukraine, according to Ton-That.
Fines and lawsuits
There is a lot of discussion about the privacy risks associated with using Clearview. The company was fined €20 million last week by an Italian privacy watchdog for unlawfully collecting biometric data from Italian citizens. Earlier, the British privacy watchdog Information Commissioner’s Office imposed a similar fine for the same reason. Clearview is also under fire in Belgium. The service must remove Belgian faces from its database. Because the way Clearview compiles its database would be in violation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), several national privacy organizations took the company to court last year.
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