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Chicago police drop Clearview facial recognition technology

May 29, 2020 GMT

CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago police is no longer using facial recognition software developed by a firm that was sued by a civil rights organization this week over privacy concerns.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Thursday against Clearview AI over its technology that allows users to compare photos with a database of billions of photos collected from the internet.

The Chicago Police Department in January announced a two-year contract with the tech firm CDW Government to use Clearview’s technology. But on Thursday, police spokesman Howard Ludwig said Clearview ended the $49,875 contract on May 1, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

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Ludwig said the company issued a prorated refund to the police department when the contract ended. He noted that the department is still using facial recognition provided by another firm.

The ACLU complaint filed in Cook County alleges that Clearview’s technology violates the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, a law that protects current and former residents’ facial and fingerprint identifiers from being used without consent.

“Companies like Clearview will end privacy as we know it, and must be stopped,” said Nathan Freed Wessler, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project.

The technology paves the way for “unprecedented power” to spy on people, he said.

The lawsuit particularly seeks to protect survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse, undocumented immigrants and other vulnerable communities “uniquely harmed by face recognition surveillance,” the ACLU said in a statement.

A plaintiff in the lawsuit is the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation, a nonprofit that advocates for the rights of survivors of sexual violence and exploitation. The group’s legal director, Mallory Littlejohn, said Clearview’s technology makes survivors fear being tracked by abusers.

“We can change our names and addresses to shield our whereabouts and identities from stalkers and abusive partners, but we can’t change our faces,” Littlejohn said.