EXCLUSIVE Ukraine started using Clearview AI facial recognition during the war

Members of the Territorial Defense Force stand guard at a checkpoint, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, in Independence Square in central Kiev, Ukraine, March 3 2022. REUTERS/Valentin Ogirenko

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March 13 (Reuters) – Ukraine’s Defense Ministry began using Clearview AI facial recognition technology on Saturday, the company’s chief executive told Reuters, after the U.S. startup offered to find the Russian attackers, to counter misinformation and identify the dead.

Ukraine is receiving free access to Clearview AI’s powerful face search engine, allowing authorities to potentially screen persons of interest at checkpoints, among other uses, added Lee Wolosky, Clearview adviser and former diplomat under US Presidents Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Plans began to form after Russia invaded Ukraine and Clearview chief executive Hoan Ton-That sent a letter to Kiev offering help, according to a copy seen by Reuters.

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Clearview said it did not offer the technology to Russia, which calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation”.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry did not respond to requests for comment. Earlier, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation said it was considering offers from US-based artificial intelligence companies like Clearview. Many Western companies have pledged to help Ukraine, providing internet hardware, cybersecurity tools and other forms of support. Read more

The Clearview founder said his startup has more than 2 billion images from Russian social media service VKontakte, out of a database of more than 10 billion photos in total. Read more

This database can help Ukraine identify the dead more easily than trying to match fingerprints and works even if there is facial damage, Ton-That wrote. Search for the US Department of Energy found that decomposition reduced the effectiveness of technology while a document from a 2021 conference showed promising results.

Ton-That’s letter also said Clearview’s technology could be used to reunite separated refugees with their families, identify Russian operatives and help the government debunk fake war-related social media posts.

The exact purpose for which the Ukrainian Defense Ministry is using the technology is unclear, Ton-That said. Other parts of the Ukrainian government are expected to roll out Clearview in the coming days, he and Wolosky said.

The VKontakte images make Clearview’s dataset more comprehensive than that of PimEyes, a publicly available image search engine that people have used to identify individuals in war photos, Wolosky said. VKontakte did not immediately respond to a request for comment; US social media company Facebook, now Meta Platforms Inc (FB.O), had asked Clearview to stop taking its data.

At least one reviewer says facial recognition could misidentify people at checkpoints and in combat. A mismatch could lead to civilian deaths, just as unfair arrests have resulted from police use, said Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project in New York.

“We’re going to see well-meaning technology backfire and harm the very people it’s meant to help,” he said.

Ton-That said Clearview should never be used as the sole source of identification and he would not want the technology used in violation of the Geneva Conventions, which created legal standards for humanitarian treatment during war. .

Like other users, those in Ukraine receive training and must enter a case number and reason for a search before queries, he said.

Clearview, which sells primarily to US law enforcement, is battling lawsuits in the US accusing it of violating privacy rights by taking images from the web. Clearview argues that its data collection is similar to how Google search works. However, several countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia, have deemed its practices illegal.

Cahn described deceased identification as probably the least dangerous way to deploy technology in wartime, but said that “once you bring these systems and the associated databases into a war zone, you have no control over how it will be used and misused. ”

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Reporting by Paresh Dave Oakland, Calif. and Jeffrey Dastin in Palo Alto, Calif.; Additional reporting by Elizabeth Culliford; Editing by Kenneth Li and Lisa Shumaker

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