(TMU) — Manhattan-based Clearview AI is collecting data from unsuspecting social media users and the Chicago Police Department (CPD) is using the controversial facial recognition tool to pinpoint the identity of unknown suspects, reads a report from the Chicago Sun-Times.
“Until this week, I had not heard of Clearview AI,” Gurbir Grewal, New Jersey’s attorney general, said in an interview. “I was troubled.”
— The New York Times (@nytimes) January 25, 2020
The software’s creator, Hoan Ton-That, maintains that it is purely “an after-the-fact research tool for law enforcement, not a surveillance system or a consumer application.” However, privacy advocates are saying this technology is so intrusive and ripe for abuse its use should be immediately halted. And earlier this month, a lawsuit was filed in federal court seeking to do just that.
Chicago attorney Scott Drury who filed the lawsuit describes CPD’s signing of a two-year, $49,875 contract with Illinois tech firm CDW Government to use Clearview AI’s software as “frightening.”
Conversely, Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi explains:
“Our obligation is to find those individuals that hurt other people and bring them to justice. And we want to be able to use every tool available to be able to perform that function, but we want to be able to do so responsibly.”
According to police, some CPD officials at the Crime Prevention and Information Center used the software for two months on a trial basis prior to the signing of the contract in January.
Despite the two month trial and the contract having been signed for approximately one month, CPD spokesman Howard Ludwig has declined to explain if and when Clearview AI has been used by the department thus far. Ludgwig explained:
“Any information about ongoing investigations can only come from cases that have been thoroughly adjudicated. We haven’t had Clearview long enough for any of the cases to have gone through the courts.”
Clearview AI’s database includes three billion photos taken from social media and network platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. The software searches its massive database for matches after users, including CPD, upload a photo of a suspect. The user is then provided with links for each image returned in the search that the company once told Green Bay police to “run wild” with in a marketing email.
Ton-That told the Sun-Times, “Our software links to publicly available web pages, not any private data.” It is clear he doesn’t seem to think the software poses any problems. But just this month, New Jersey’s attorney general Gurbir Grewal “put a moratorium on Clearview AI’s chilling, unregulated facial recognition software.”
BREAKING: @NewJerseyOAG put a moratorium on Clearview AI’s chilling, unregulated facial recognition software.
It scraped 3 billion photos online, including from social media, into an index of names + faces for police department subscribers.
This step is unequivocally good news.
— ACLU of New Jersey (@ACLUNJ) January 24, 2020
The ACLU of New Jersey responded to the move in a tweet last Friday:
“Technology like this opens a Pandora’s Box for constant warrantless searches, pretty much of anyone with a photo and name online.
It’s a tool that could make an already-unequal criminal justice system truly dystopian.
New Jersey is right to slam this Pandora’s Box shut.”
Technology like this opens a Pandora’s Box for constant warrantless searches, pretty much of anyone with a photo and name online.
It’s a tool that could make an already-unequal criminal justice system truly dystopian.
New Jersey is right to slam this Pandora’s Box shut.
— ACLU of New Jersey (@ACLUNJ) January 24, 2020
The ACLU also rightfully pointed out that tendency of facial recognition technology to have a bias against “people of color, women, and non-binary people.” In fact, as TMU has previously reported, self-driving cars are less likely to detect black people and artificial intelligence (AI) is sending the wrong people to jail.
Critics of Clearview AI and facial recognition software extend far beyond those involved in the lawsuit mentioned above and the ACLU of New Jersey. In what is the one of the biggest efforts to date in the battle against the use of facial recognition technologies, 40 organizations signed a letter to the Department of Homeland Security’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board calling for the banning of the U.S. government’s use of such technology “pending further review.” The letter notes that this technology could be exploited and used to “control minority populations and limit dissent.”
However, as Fast Company points out, not everyone feels the same. In fact, some view actions like the letter mentioned above “an overreaction.”
Jon Gacek, head of government, legal, and compliance for Veritone—a company that provides technology like Clearview AI for law enforcement in both Europe and the U.S.—says all the software does is use “technology to do what police already do, except far faster and at less cost.”
Twitter responded to the bombshell NYT report by sending a letter to Clearview AI last week. In a follow-up report, the NYT explained:
“Twitter sent a letter this week to the small start-up company, Clearview AI, demanding that it stop taking photos and any other data from the social media website “for any reason” and delete any data that it previously collected, a Twitter spokeswoman said. The cease-and-desist letter, sent on Tuesday, accused Clearview of violating Twitter’s policies.”
While those concerned with privacy are typically focused on their photos and data being used by social media companies for profit, the situation with Clearview AI is an excellent reminder that what we post online generally can and will be used in ways we do not consent to despite our best efforts to keep up with Terms of Service updates and checking as many “opt-out” boxes as possible.
UN Says Trump Violated International Law With Pardons for Blackwater War Criminals
A United Nations panel has strongly denounced U.S. President Donald Trump’s pardons for several former Blackwater mercenaries and convicted war criminals that were found guilty of massacring over a dozen civilians in Baghdad.
The U.N. working group on the use of mercenaries released a statement Wednesday condemning the White House decision to pardon the four killers as an offense to basic justice and insult to the memory of over a dozen people killed in the 2007 massacre, reports Reuters. The panel also sharply condemned the move as a violation of U.S. obligations to international law.
“Pardoning the Blackwater contractors is an affront to justice and to the victims of the Nisour Square massacre and their families,” said panel chair Jelena Aparac.
“These pardons violate U.S. obligations under international law and more broadly undermine humanitarian law and human rights at a global level,” she added.
The four men, all of whom were American, were involved in the indiscriminate killing of 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians, when the mercenaries opened fire during busy traffic at the Baghdad square. Twenty additional civilians were injured. Nicholas Slatten was convicted of first-degree murder while Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty and Paul Slough were each convicted of voluntary and attempted manslaughter.
The four men were employed by the private security firm Blackwater which was owned by security contractor Erik Prince, the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Prince has reportedly served as an informal adviser to the White House while also helping to orchestrate spying efforts to infiltrate campaigns by political and labor groups considered hostile to Trump, the New York Times reported earlier this year.
The four mercenaries were included in a wave of controversial pre-Christmas pardons announced by the Trump administration that critics derided as corrupt and immoral.
“While U.S. Army contractors convicted of massacring civilians in Iraq are pardoned, the man who exposed such crimes against humanity, [WikiLeaks founder] Julian Assange, rots in Britain’s Guantanamo,” tweeted Greek economist and parliamentarian Yanis Varoufakis.
The pardons for the former Blackwater mercenaries, in particular, were sharply criticized by Gen. David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the two top American officials in charge of U.S. policy in Iraq at the time of the 2007 massacre, who called the move “hugely damaging, an action that tells the world that Americans abroad can commit the most heinous crimes with impunity” in a joint statement.
The U.N. working group’s chair also said that the pardons send the signal that private security contractors would essentially give them the green light to “operate with impunity in armed conflicts” as states increasingly rely on the firms to circumvent their obligations under humanitarian law.
In recent years, military contractors have increasingly been deployed in sensitive conflict zones by companies from the U.S., U.K., Russia, South Africa and other countries.
Blackwater, which has since been renamed as Academi, earned worldwide notoriety for the 2007 massacre, after which the company was stripped of its license to operate in Iraq by the country’s government.
Documents released by WikiLeaks have also highlighted major human rights abuses, including the murder of civilians, by private security services such as Blackwater throughout the Iraq War.
Trophy Hunters Killed 1.7 Million Animals Over the Past Decade – Including Endangered Species
The bloodthirsty “sport” of trophy hunting managed to kill one animal every three minutes over the past decades, according to a devastating new exposé of the industry.
Over 1.7 million animals – including elephants, lions, and rhinos – have been slaughtered by trophy hunters, with the wealthiest among them paying top dollar to kill rare and endangered creatures hovering at the brink of extinction.
The grim data underscores the ties between an industry that rakes in over $400 million per year and the global elites thirsty for a chance to kill the rare animals that conservationists have tirelessly worked to rescue.
The new book, entitled Trophy Leaks: Top Hunters and Industry Secrets, was written by Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting (CBTH) founder Eduardo Gonçalves, and exposes the shocking scale of an industry that disingenuously claims that it is pursuing the aim of conservation.
Instead, the book reveals that trophy hunters have killed some “100 endangered animals” every day in 2018. The book, which also relies on analysis by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, shows that the life of an animal is taken for sport every three minutes in a blatantly irresponsible contribution to a loss of biodiversity that has seen the global rate of species extinction accelerate to unprecedented levels in recent decades.
For this reason, Gonçalves aptly characterizes the trophy hunting trade as an extinction industry that banks on the wholesale slaughter of creatures.
“An estimated 1.7 million animals were shot by trophy hunters over the past decade – the equivalent of almost 500 animals a day, or one every 3 minutes,” Gonçalves writes.
The book also reveals how shills for the game-hunting industry have run high-profile disinformation campaigns on social media to counter the efforts of the U.K. government to outlaw imports linked to trophy hunters. About £600,000 (USD $800,000) was used to prop up sock puppet accounts on Facebook and Twitter that purported to be Africans opposed to Boris Johnson’s pledge to ban trophy imports to Britain.
According to the book, nearly 800 hunters have won the “African Big 5” prize from the industry, which rewards those who have slain at least one buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and black or white rhino.
Hunting lobbyists with the Safari Club International (SCI) industry association have also awarded special prizes to hunters who have killed over 80 different African species.
Hunting advocates have also allegedly pledged over $2 million to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in hopes of seeing a generous return on investments under his administration.
While Trump has previously denounced trophy hunting as a “horror show,” his two sons are prominent trophy hunters and the Humane Society of the United States has denounced his administration for catering to wealthy trophy hunters and ignoring the pleas of conservationists to ban the import of slain animal “trophies.”
“Future generations will look back aghast at how we allowed the world’s most endangered species to be gunned down in their droves by adrenaline junkies in pursuit of grinning selfies and gruesome souvenirs,” Gonçalves told the Daily Mail.
“Trophy-hunting isn’t about a handful of sick individuals – it is about a huge global industry which wields extraordinary power and manipulates governments.”
Texas Dad Beaten, Maced, Taken to Jail for Filming Cops Arrest His Son for ‘Wide Right Turn’
As 2020 draws to a close, the year is likely to go down in history as a time when people across the United States finally decided to take a stand against systemic police brutality and widespread human rights abuses at the hands of law enforcement. Despite the protests, however, the widespread abuse of U.S. residents under color of authority is showing few signs of disappearing.
And in one especially egregious recent incident, a Texas police officer can be seen arresting a motorist for allegedly making too wide a right turn. The officer then proceeds to call for backup, after which the officers pepper-spray the driver and then beat the man’s father for lawfully filming the arrest.
The North Texas man is now suing two officers with the Keller Police Department for the disturbing incident, which occurred on Aug. 15 and has already led to the police chief disciplining the offending officer and apologizing to the family.
“It’s undeniable that their conduct was horrible,” Scott Palmer, one of the lawyers suing Keller PD, told New York Times. “They’re supposed to preserve and protect, and they caused havoc and mayhem.”
Dillon Puente, 22, was on his way to his grandmother’s home when he was pulled over for making a wide right turn. In police bodycam footage, Sergeant Blake Shimanek can be seen requesting that Dillon exit the car before he placed him in handcuffs.
In a police report reviewed by WFAA, Shimanek claimed that he arrested Puente for the mere traffic infraction out of fears for his own safety.
After Dillon was arrested, his father Marco Puente arrived at the scene to video record the arrest.
“He was ticketed and taken to jail for a wide right turn,” Marco later recounted.
Marco parked his truck in the lane adjacent to his son before Shimanek sharply warned him to move his vehicle, warning that he could be arrested for obstructing the roadway. Marco quickly complied before returning to record the arrest with his phone from the sidewalk across the road.
“The officer didn’t like me being there recording anything,” Marco said.
At that point, Shimanek ordered Officer Ankit Tomer to place Marco under arrest for filming the scene, which was well within his rights.
“Put your phone down,” Tomer said in footage captured by his bodycam. “Put your hands behind your head.”
“This guy is arresting me for just standing here,” Marco said.
It was at that point that Tomer escalated the situation by initiating force against Marco, an innocent civilian who was simply watching out for his son.
“They tried to take me down and pepper spray me, and it was a fiasco,” Marco said.
In the video, the officers can be seen tackling Marco to the ground and repeatedly spraying him with mace before placing him, too, in handcuffs. The father-son pair were then detained and hauled to the local jail.
However, Dillon Puente was ultimately only given a minor citation for the initial wide turn. Marco wasn’t charged with any crime, and he was quickly released.
Two days after the incident, the Keller police chief himself met with Marco to apologize for the conduct of his officers. Shimanek was also demoted from sergeant to officer for his role in the unnerving altercation.
In the lawsuit against the two officers, Keller PD leadership are quoted as calling the use of force and arrest of Marco Puente entirely “inappropriate.”
Regardless of the police department’s apologies, the lawsuit is being filed as a matter of ensuring basic accountability.
“Marco is not a criminal. This is a man, a concerned father, and if this can happen to him, it can happen to anyone,” Marco’s attorney Scott Palmer said. “These officers knew better. I believe they were trained better, but why did they not execute better? I don’t know.”
Shimanek also has a history of misconduct, including a 2016 incident where he unlawfully entered a home without a search warrant and other incidents.
“It’s disturbing to know that these are the people we are entrusting with providing safety in the community and they are abusing that power,” said James Roberts, an attorney who works with Palmer’s law firm. “I know that they knew better. I know that they knew what they were doing was wrong, yet they still did it.”
The Puente family is still disturbed by the incident, months after it transpired. And while Marco recognizes that the apology was a “nice” gesture, further accountability is required.
“This is going on everywhere,” Puente said about police brutality. “If people keep on brushing it under a rug, it’s going to keep happening.”
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