How Clearview AI technology kept an innocent man out of jail

The company’s facial recognition technology was used to exonerate a man accused of driving homicide, helping to track down the only person who can corroborate his version of events.

While facial recognition company Clearview AI is regularly criticized for its technology, including for harvesting images from the web without the consent of those involved, its use can sometimes be beneficial. In the United States, it allowed a man accused of homicide at the wheel not to end up in prison, as revealed by the New York Times.

The case dates back to March 2017, when Andrew Grantt Conlyn was sitting in the passenger seat of a car driven by a drunk friend, speeding around 100 miles per hour. He ended up hitting a curb and losing control of the vehicle. While the friend in question died after being ejected from the car, Andrew Grantt Conlyn passed out and was saved by an individual who pulled him out of the burning vehicle. The problem is that he did not know the identity of this savior, just like the police officers who questioned him and recorded the conversation on their body cameras. So accused of driving, he could have been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Beneficial use of facial recognition

Although Andrew Grantt Conlyn denied being the driver of the car, his version of events was difficult to substantiate without the man who rescued him. To find him, his lawyers have asked for the public’s help, providing an image of the man from body cameras to local news outlets and posting it on social media. Having heard about facial recognition at the end of last year, one of them wanted to use this technology to find the saviour. He first used the PimEyes site, but didn’t get good results because of the dark screenshot from police cameras.

He then turned to Clearview AI, whose database includes 20 billion faces. Its CEO, Hoan Ton-That, having accepted that he uses the company’s tool, he managed to find the man who saved his client: “In two seconds, I found a photo of him in a club in Tampa”he told the New York Times. The website the photo appeared on did not list his name, but it did include that of a man who was with him at the club that night. The lawyer contacted him on Facebook and was able to obtain the name of the savior: Vince Ramirez.

This case inspired the CEO of Clearview AI, who began offering the company’s tool to court-appointed attorneys. The company now offers them 30-day free trials, just like it does with law enforcement. “People would think of the technology very differently if public defenders also had access to it”, said Hoan Ton-That. This is a way for the company to make itself look good in the face of criticism related to the way it has built its database.

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