ICE continues to not care what anyone thinks of it. Its tactics over the past few years have turned it into one of the federal government’s most infamous monsters, thanks to its separation of families, caging of children, unfettered surveillance of undocumented immigrants, its fake university sting created to punish students trying to remain in the country legally, its sudden rescinding of COVID-related distance learning guidelines solely for the purpose of punishing students trying to remain in the country legally… well, you get the picture.
Perhaps it’s fitting ICE is buying tech from a company that appears unconcerned that most of the public hates it. Clearview — the facial recognition software that matches uploaded facial images with billions of images scraped from the open web — is one of the latest additions to ICE’s surveillance tech arsenal.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) signed a contract with facial recognition company Clearview AI this week for “mission support,” government contracting records show (as first spotted by the tech accountability nonprofit Tech Inquiry). The purchase order for $ 224,000 describes “clearview licenses” and lists “ICE mission support dallas” as the contracting office.
That its new partner is being sued in multiple states (including a suit filed by the Vermont Attorney General) doesn’t appear to concern ICE, which is itself often on the receiving end of lawsuits. Clearview may be making good on its promise to pull out of the private market and sell only to government agencies, but that just means it will be only governments using unproven AI and scraped images to pursue investigations and arrest people.
Clearview’s statement to The Verge about its contract with ICE makes it appear this is all about the children:
“Clearview AI’s agreement is with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which uses our technology for their Child Exploitation Unit and ongoing criminal investigations,” Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That said in an emailed statement to The Verge. “Clearview AI has enabled HSI to rescue children across the country from sexual abuse and exploitation.”
Clearview leans on the children here, but the statement says a couple of other interesting things I’m sure Ton-That would rather slide by unnoticed. First: “and ongoing criminal investigations.” ICE considers every undocumented immigrant to be a criminal, which means the agency is going to use this software to track down people in the US for committing the civil violation of staying in the country without the proper paperwork. ICE has not been able to find enough dangerous immigrants to make the administration’s public statements about rampaging hordes of bad hombres come true, so it has decided to go after everyone, including students here on visas.
Second, Clearview claims it has “enabled” HSI to “rescue children across the country.” I’d say we’d just have to take its word on this but we certainly don’t have to take its word on this because it’s said things like this in the past only for the named law enforcement agency to contradict Clearview’s claims when asked for comment. That may be what Clearview hopes its partnership with ICE/HSI will do, but it’s difficult to believe the recently signed contract has already produced results or that ICE/HSI are really using this mostly to fight child sexual exploitation rather than just uploading photos of brown people and hoping for hits.
Either way, we can safely conclude both partners here suck. ICE is bad and keeps getting worse, and Clearview isn’t ever going to improve and is presumably still scraping sites for “content” it can sell to its customers.