47 Wisconsin law enforcement agencies used facial recognition software reliant on social media photos

NOW: 47 Wisconsin law enforcement agencies used facial recognition software reliant on social media photos

WEST ALLIS, Wis. (CB S58) -- Your vacation photos on Facebook may have wound up in facial recognition software used by police without your knowledge.

A national investigation found 47 police departments in Wisconsin, and nearly 2,000 across the country, have used this software created by Clearview AI.

West Allis police said one of their employees used the software as part of a free trial last year.

Deputy Chief Chris Marks said they didn't make any arrests off the program and don't rely on it for investigations.

However a national investigation found some departments didn't even know their employees were using it at all.

"When you upload your photos to social media, you're not intending -- I guess most people aren't intending for that to be used to train a facial recognition dragnet," said Buzzfeed Senior Technology Reporter Ryan Mac.

He's part of the team publishing a huge story on police surveillance. Nearly 2,000 police departments used a facial recognition program from Clearview AI relying on photos from social media. Buzzfeed's findings included 47 agencies in Wisconsin.

They've ripped and scraped billions of photos from across the web," said Mac.

Clearview AI didn't respond to CBS 58's email, but has said it uses publicly accessible photos. Mac said the company's decision still violates the terms of service of the websites.

"The public, in some cases, actually in most cases, didn't even know about this," said Mac.

Buzzfeed's data stops in February 2020. It showed Mount Pleasant ran up to 5,000 searches, Kenosha up to 500, Milwaukee up to 100.

"We don't advocate for any use of facial recognition software," said Wisconsin ACLU Community Engagement Manager Tomas Clasen.

Clasen said Wisconsin lawmakers need to create clear standards for how police can use this type of technology, and bring it out of the shadows.

"We certainly shouldn't have individual law enforcement officers deciding they're going to take on this free trial," said Clasen.

Mac said that's the point of their reporting, which continues.

"The public has a right to know this, if their police officers are using this tool to surveil them," said Mac.

The ACLU has called on the Biden Administration to stop federal law enforcement from using this type of technology.

It also wants the president to prevent state and local police from using federal money to buy the technology, too.

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