New Bedford Police: Facial Recognition Tool ‘Hasn’t Been Used Here’
The New Bedford Police Department says it has never used a groundbreaking and controversial facial recognition program that has become a popular tool among law enforcement agencies since it was developed in 2017, despite a report from BuzzFeed News that suggests the department accessed the software at least a hundred times or more between 2018 and February 2020.
“It hasn’t been used here,” New Bedford Police spokesperson Melissa Batchilder told WBSM News in response to an inquiry about Clearview AI.
According to BuzzFeed News’ database, the New Bedford Police Department or an individual or individuals associated with the department ran photos through Clearview AI between 101 and 500 times during the period between 2018 and February 2020.
“This organization did not respond to a request for comment,” BuzzFeed News notes in the database in regards to the New Bedford Police Department.
But Batchilder said the NBPD has no vendors listed as "Clearview AI," and that there are no officers who have accessed the tool.
"We've done an extensive reach across all officers. No one is familiar with them," Batchilder said.
BuzzFeed News has NBPD as one of 1,803 law enforcement entities that appear in the database, comprised of agencies that had accessed Clearview AI’s facial recognition tracking software at least once during the time period. According to the company’s website, Clearview AI’s platform “includes the largest known database of 3+ billion facial images sourced from public-only web sources, including news media, mugshot websites, public social media, and other open sources.”
BuzzFeed News did note that the “database has limitations” and that “Clearview has neither verified nor disputed the underlying data.” Instead, the database was built after “a confidential source provided BuzzFeed News with data that appeared to be a list of agencies and companies whose employees have tried or used its technology.”
“Just because an agency appears on the list does not mean BuzzFeed News was able to confirm that it actually used the tool, or that its officials approved its employees’ use of Clearview,” BuzzFeed News wrote.
WBSM News searched all SouthCoast law enforcement agencies in the database and came across only two others: the Rehoboth Police Department and the Somerset Police Department.
“We do have individuals that use or have used Clearview AI. I know that some individuals currently have access to the product, but I am unsure if they are currently using the product. Finally, I don’t believe that any arrest(s) have been made based on the use of the product by the Rehoboth Police Department,” Norman J. Todd, records access officer for Rehoboth Police, told BuzzFeed News. The database indicated there were 11-50 searches from Rehoboth Police from 2018 to February 2020.
As for Somerset, a department spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, “One of our detectives was offered a 30-day trial.” The database indicated there had been 51-100 searches from Somerset Police.