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ICE and DHS use Clearview AI, but won’t say how. They’re being sued for an answer.

A quartet of nonprofits have filed suit against the feds after their FOIA request about Clearview was ignored.

ICE and DHS use Clearview AI, but won’t say how. They’re being sued for an answer.

Four nonprofits are suing the Department of Homeland Security to find out how they use Clearview AI's facial recognition technology.

Photo: Lianhao Qu/Unsplash

The ACLU of Northern California and immigrant advocacy groups Just Futures Law, the Immigrant Defense Project and Mijente have filed suit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection to gain access to any documents that show how and if they use Clearview AI's facial recognition software, after the government agencies did not respond to Freedom of Information Act requests.

Clearview AI provides software to match people's faces to billions of photographs and other personal information scraped from sites and services across the internet. The company has drawn criticism from across the political spectrum for gathering data without user consent, and is under investigation in the U.K., Australia and Europe for potentially violating privacy laws with its aggressive data-scraping policies.

The exact ways these federal agencies use Clearview's software are not public knowledge, but federal contracting records show the agencies have paid to have access. After the three groups requested that information through federal open records laws and were ignored, they filed suit in order to reveal how those contracts have been put into practice.

This lawsuit aims to ensure the public knows what these agencies are doing, and why (not whether their actions are illegal). "With this FOIA, we have a lot of questions. How is ICE using this? Who are they using it on? Are there any accountability measures in place?" said Sejal Zota, the co-founder and legal director of Just Futures. "At the very least, we want to know what's happening."

It became common practice under the Trump administration for DHS and its borders and customs enforcement agencies to regularly ignore or resist FOIA requests, according to Jennifer Jones, a technology and civil liberties fellow at the same ACLU office. While the Biden administration has expressed interest in more transparency and expediting requests, it's not unusual to have to sue these particular agencies to force them to comply with freedom of information laws, she said.

"They need to be providing information like this in a timely manner, and at this point it's been over five months," she said.

Surveillance technologies like Clearview AI could make it much easier for law enforcement agencies to track down people based on a name, address or even a grainy picture of a face, using data obtained without the consent of the person being tracked. "Clearview AI in our view is particularly concerning because they have expanded the reach of facial recognition so much by scraping and scanning billions of personal photos to create the massive database," said Vasudha Talla, the immigrant rights director for the ACLU of Northern California. "When you have a tool like this in the hands of ICE, DHS, CPB, obviously that raises concerns that when someone may post on the internet very naively, there is a chance that if ICE is using this tool as part of their immigration enforcement operation, that they could really be putting their family members or themselves at risk."

While the four groups are focusing mainly on the potential consequences for immigration and immigrant families in their suit, Talla suggested that because CBP has previously been known to deploy surveillance technologies against American citizens, the ACLU also has questions about whether this particular tool has been used for domestic surveillance.

Because the Biden administration has said it is conducting a full review of DHS's role in migrant detention, Mijente is hoping that forcing the agency to be transparent about this information will in turn cause the administration to pay more attention to how DHS uses surveillance technologies in its review, according to Jacinta Gonzalez, Mijente's field director.

"Clearview is the epitome of tech gone rogue, combined with policing gone rogue. In terms of how it's being used and how it's being implemented, it brings up really fundamental questions for us about not only facial recognition technology, and what happens to our information on the internet, and how easily that can be put in the hands of police," she said.

Protocol | Policy

Senate infrastructure bill: Who’s winning and losing in tech?

The $1 trillion bill covers everything from cyber to electric vehicles. But who's best positioned to seize the opportunity?

The $1 trillion infrastructure bill includes $550 billion in new spending.

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

There's a little something — and in some cases, a lotta something — for everyone in the bipartisan infrastructure bill that's currently getting hammered out in the Senate.

The $1 trillion bill includes $550 billion in new spending, of which tens of billions of dollars will go toward broadband expansion, low-income internet subsidies, electric vehicle investments, charging stations, cybersecurity and more. The outpouring of federal funding gives anyone from telecom giants to device manufacturers a lot to like.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

When the COVID-19 crisis crippled societies last year, the collective worldwide race for a cure among medical researchers put a spotlight on the immense power of big data analysis and how sharing among disparate agencies can save lives.

The critical need to exchange information among hundreds of international agencies or departments can be tough to pull off, especially if it's medical, financial or cybersecurity information that is highly protected by regulatory guardrails.

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James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Protocol | Workplace

Silicon Valley has a new recruitment strategy: The four-day workweek

Everything you need to know about how tech companies are beta testing the 32-hour week.

Since the onset of COVID-19, more companies have begun to explore shortened workweeks.

Photo: Matteo Colombo/Getty Images

At software company Wildbit, most employees are logged off on Fridays. That's not going to change anytime soon.

To Natalie Nagele, the company's co-founder and CEO, a full five days of work doesn't necessarily mean the company will get more stuff done. She pointed to computer science professor Cal Newport's book, "Deep Work," which explains how a person's ability to complete meaningful work cuts off after just about four hours. That book, Nagele told Protocol, inspired the company to move to a four-day workweek back in 2017.

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Sarah Roach

Sarah Roach is a reporter and producer at Protocol (@sarahroach_) where she contributes to Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. She is a recent graduate of George Washington University, where she studied journalism and mass communication and criminal justice. She previously worked for two years as editor in chief of her school's independent newspaper, The GW Hatchet.


The game industry comes back down to Earth after its pandemic boom

Game company earnings reports this week show a decline from last year's big profits.

The game industry is slowing down as it struggles to maintain last year's record growth.

Photo: Cyril Marcilhacy/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The video game industry is finally slowing down. After a year of unprecedented and explosive growth due to the COVID-19 pandemic, big game publishers and hardware makers are starting to see profits dip from their 2020 highs and other signs of a return to normalcy.

This week alone, Sony and Nintendo both posted substantial drops in profit compared to this time a year ago, with Sony's operating income down more than 40% and Nintendo's down 17%. Grand Theft Auto maker Take-Two Interactive saw a dip in revenue and said its forecast for the rest of the fiscal year would not match last year's growth, while EA posted a revenue bump but an operating income decline of more than 43% compared to this time a year ago. Ubisoft, which reported earnings last month, saw its sales and bookings this past quarter drop by 14% and 21%, respectively, when compared to a year ago.

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Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at

Allocations wants to make it easier to invest in startups as a group

Now valued at $100 million, it's emerging from stealth to challenge Carta and Assure in the SPV market.

Kingsley Advani, CEO of Allocations, wants to make it easier to form SPVs.

Photo: Allocations

Software is eating the world, including the venture industry. Carta and Assure have made it easier than ever for people to band together on deals. AngelList's venture arm debuted new ways to create rolling funds. But the latest startup to challenge the incumbents in the space is Allocations, a Miami-based startup that's making it easy to create and close special purpose vehicles, or SPVs, in hours.

"If you look at Pinduoduo and group shopping, SPVs are group investing," said Kingsley Advani, Allocations' founder and CEO. Instead of one investor having to cough up millions, multiple people can write smaller checks in an SPV and invest as a cohort. It's a trend that's taken off in 2021 as investors compete to get into hot startups.

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Biz Carson

Biz Carson ( @bizcarson) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering Silicon Valley with a focus on startups and venture capital. Previously, she reported for Forbes and was co-editor of Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before that, she worked for Business Insider, Gigaom, and Wired and started her career as a newspaper designer for Gannett.

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