Facial recognition technology: how it is used in Ukraine and why it remains so controversial

Facial recognition technology is being used in warfare for the first time. It could be a new application of this technology in Ukraine, where it is being used to identify the dead and reunite families. But if we are not capable of respecting the ethics of this technology now, we could find ourselves before an instrument capable of violating human rights.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense has been using the software Clearview AI facial recognition since March 2022 with the intention of verifying war crimes by identifying the dead, both Russian and Ukrainian.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation has said it is using Clearview AI technology to offer Russians the opportunity to experience the “true cost of war” and to let families know that if they want to find the bodies of their loved ones, deceased, will be “welcome to Ukraine”.

This is also being used softwarewhich is free in Ukraine, at checkpoints and could help reunite refugees with their families.

UK controversy

Last month, the UK Data Protection Agency (the ICO) fined Clearview AI more than 7.5 million pounds sterling (about 8.7 million euros) for collecting images of people in the UK, elsewhere on the net and on social media.

Such images were ordered removed and the collection and use of UK residents’ personal data publicly available on the internet was prohibited.

According to the ICO, given the large number of UK social media users, it is highly likely that Clearview AI’s database of faces contains a significant number of images obtained and stored without consent.

A lawyer for Clearview AI, Lee Wolosky, maintains that “the decision to impose a fine is not in accordance with the law: Clearview AI is not subject to the jurisdiction of the ICO, and does not do business in the UK at this time.”

The company expects to have 100 billion face images in its database by early 2023, which is 14 times the number of people on Earth. Multiple photos of the same person improve the accuracy of the system.

According to the Clearview AI website, its facial recognition technology helps law enforcement fight crime and enables transportation companies, banks, and other commercial businesses to detect theft, prevent fraud, and verify identities.

A tool for war

Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That argues that his software Facial recognition software has enabled Ukraine’s government and law enforcement agencies to store more than 2 billion images from VKontakte, a Russian social networking service. Hoan said the program can help Ukrainian officials identify dead soldiers more efficiently than fingerprints, and it works even if a soldier’s face is damaged.

But there is conflicting evidence about the effectiveness of software facial recognition. According to the US Department of Energy, the decomposition of a person’s face can reduce the accuracy of the program. On the other hand, recent studies have shown results related to the identification of dead persons similar to or better than human evaluation.

Scientific research suggests that fingerprints, dental records, and DNA remain the most reliable identification techniques. But they are tools for trained professionals, while facial recognition can be used by non-experts.

Another problem pointed out by experts is that facial recognition can mistakenly match two images or not match photos of the same person. In Ukraine, the consequences of any possible mistake with artificial intelligence could be disastrous. An innocent civilian could die if he is misidentified as a Russian soldier.

a controversial story

In 2016, Hoan began hiring computer engineers to create the Clearview AI algorithm. But it wasn’t until 2019 that the American facial recognition company began discreetly providing its software to US police and law enforcement.

In January 2020, New York Times published an article titled The secret company that could end privacy as we know it. The text prompted more than 40 tech and civil rights organizations to send a letter to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and four US Congressional committees, demanding the suspension of the software Clearview AI facial recognition.

In February 2020, following a data breach of Clearview AI’s client list, BuzzFeed revealed that the software Clearview AI’s facial recognition software was being used by people in more than 2,200 police departments, government agencies, and businesses in 27 different countries.

Facial recognition technology is also used to detect theft, prevent fraud and verify identities.
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On May 9, 2022, Clearview AI agreed to stop selling access to its face database to individuals and businesses in the US, after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit accusing Clearview AI of violate an Illinois privacy law.

Over the past two years, data protection authorities in Canada, France, Italy, Austria, and Greece have fined, investigated, or banned Clearview AI from collecting images of people.

Unless laws are adopted to govern the use of facial recognition, police use of this technology risks violating privacy rights, data protection and equality laws.

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