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Posted On

15
March
2022

Ukraine is using facial recognition technology to uncover Russian assailants and identify the dead

Ukraine’s military may be employing Clearview AI’s controversial facial recognition technology to catch Russian operatives and identify the deceased amid the ongoing conflict in the country, a Reuters report reveals.

Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That told Reuters that the company offered free use of its software to Ukraine’s defense ministry. It hasn’t offered its technology to Russia. 

To date, at least 636 civilian casualties have been recorded in Ukraine by the United Nations, and the number is likely much higher, with reports of mass graves in besieged cities such as Mariupol.

Ton-That is clearly trying to frame Clearview’s technology as a force for good amid the widespread global condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The company, however, has come under fire in recent months and years for dystopian applications of its technology as well as the unconsented hoarding of private images off social media.

Clearview’s CEO explained that Ukraine’s forces could use the technology at checkpoints to uncover Russian operatives, identify dead bodies, and also fight misinformation. Though it is not clear whether Ukraine’s military is actively employing the software, Ton-That claimed that Ukraine government agencies plan to start using the technology over the coming days.

Clearview AI’s controversial technology

Clearview says it has a database of more than 10 billion images, 2 billion of which come from Russian social media platform VKontakte.

The Italian Supervisory Authority (SA) announced earlier this month that it was fining Clearview AI €20 million ($27.9 million) for unlawfully scraping and storing images of Italian nationals. It also ordered the company to delete any images of Italian citizens from its databank. The company has also received orders from government agencies in the U.K., France, Canada, and Australia to delete images of its citizens and residents. Meta, Google, and Twitter have also demanded that the company stop scraping images off of their platforms.

Last year, Clearview was also derided for filing a patent outlining dystopian applications for its technology, as it could be used to identify homeless people and drug users. The new patent also detailed potential use cases for the private sector, after Clearview clearly stated in a federal court that it will “avoid transacting with non-governmental customers anywhere.”

Clearview CEO Ton-That is pitching his company’s software to the world as a technology that can help an oppressed nation overcome its invaders. It may well help Ukrainian officials in a dire time of need, as with Elon Musk’s rerouting of Starlink capacity. Still, as with the increasing number of A.I.-controlled killer robot prototypes out there, it is a technology that is best deployed with extreme caution, or not at all, lest it be normalized as a tool on and off of the battlefield.

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