Miami police using facial recognition technology to identify violent protestors – and activists are ripping mad


MIAMI, FL – According to NBC 6, Miami Police used a “controversial” facial recognition program to identify a violent protestor, leading to her arrest.

On May 30, multiple “protestors” attacked police officers with projectiles outside the Miami’s downtown police headquarters.

Video shared on the NBC6 website shows police body camera footage as projectiles land on officers.


One person can be heard to shout,

“They’re throwing rocks!”

One protestor, identified by NBC6 as Oriana Albornoz, 25, can be seen standing on the trunk of a police cruiser, wearing a white shirt bearing the symbol for anarchy.

Police are seen to deploy tear gas as they continue to be pelted with objects. 

Albernoz is later caught on camera throwing unidentified objects at police officers.

Miami police reported that Albernoz’s actions resulted in injury to an officer’s leg.

A month later, Albernoz was arrested.  She pled not guilty to charge of battery on a police officer.

According to NBC6, police used facial recognition technology provided by Clearview AI to identify the violent perpetrator.

As it is stated on the Clearview AI website, the technology uses publicly available images from non-protected, non-private information, including social media.

The website further says:

“Clearview AI helps to identify child molesters, murderers, suspected terrorists, and other dangerous people quickly, accurately, and reliably to keep our families and communities safe.”

The website points out that the results are subject to legal compliance and scrutiny, adding:

“Just like other research systems, Clearview AI results legally require follow-up investigation and confirmation. Clearview AI was designed and independently verified to comply with all federal, state, and local laws.”

Miami police have a detailed policy regarding the use of facial recognition technology.

The official policy states:

“This technology can be a valuable investigative tool in developing leads for a criminal or Internal Affairs investigation, detecting and preventing criminal activity, reducing an imminent threat to health or safety, and helping in the identification of deceased persons or persons unable to identify themselves.”

The document goes on to emphasize respect of rights and privacy, saying:

“This policy will ensure that all facial recognition technology uses are consistent with authorized purposes while not violating the privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties of individuals.”

Authorized use of the technology includes:

“Potential suspects, witnesses, and/or victims in a criminal investigation.”

Unauthorized use includes:

“…surveillance of persons or groups based solely on their religious, political, or other constitutionally protected activities, their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, sexual identity, or other constitutionally protected class membership.”

The MPD policy also requires monthly audits to assure compliance with regulations.

Miami Police Assistant Chief Armando Aguilar spoke highly of Clearview AI.

He told NBC6:

“While we live in a society where video seems to be everywhere, many times the challenge of video is to have a photo or a video of a suspect but not knowing who the suspect is. This has helped us go over that barrier.”

As of July, the technology had assisted Miami PD in identifying 28 people linked to crimes.

Not everyone is a fan of Clearview AI, however.

Mike Gottlieb, attorney for arrested protestor Oriana Albornoz, cited privacy concerns.  He told NBC6,

“How or where they got her image from begs other privacy rights.

“Did they comb through her, let’s say, social media? And if they did, how did they get access to her social media?”

NBC6 also made sure to point out the Miami PD’s policy prohibits “surveillance of people exercising ‘constitutionally protected activities’ like protesting,” from which one might infer that the news outlet was arguing that Albernoz’s activities fell into that category.

Assistant Chief Aguilar confirmed,

“if someone is peacefully protesting and not committing a crime, we cannot use it against them.”

However, Aguilar noted that throwing rocks at officers is, indeed, a crime.

He went on to say,

“We have used the technology to identify violent protestors who assaulted police officers, who damaged police property, who set property on fire, and we have made several arrests in those cases, and more arrests are coming in the near future.”

Chad Marlow, of the ACLU, is also opposed to the use of Clearview AI.

He noted that companies like IBM, Microsoft and Amazon have refused to sell facial recognition technology to police departments over concerns of privacy and race.

Marlow stated,

“I think it’s disgraceful, frankly, for police departments to say, well if Amazon and Microsoft and IBM won’t sell me facial recognition, let’s find a company who will.”

Marlow pointed  NBC6 to multiple studies showing errors in identification using facial recognition technology and voiced concerns that persons of color would be more likely to be misidentified.  Marlow added that police departments in South Florida “don’t care” about that possibility.

Assistant Chief Aguilar responded to concerns over racial bias by stating that the Miami PD “has protections in place to prevent the wrong person being arrested.”

He added,

“We ensure that our officers, our detectives, are aware of those algorithms biases, and we build that into the policy to ensure that our officers don’t make an arrest based solely on recognition identification.”

Clearview’s CEO, Hon Ton-That, bolstered Aguilar’s words by assuring that wrongful identification is highly unlikely.

He stated,

“Unlike other facial recognition algorithms, which have misidentified people of color, an independent study indicates that Clearview AI has no racial bias.

“As a person of mixed race, this is especially important to me. We are very encouraged that our technology has proven accurate in the field and has helped prevent the wrongful identification of people of color.”

Despite claims as to its “controversial” nature and potential for misuse, reports indicate that Miami PD’s use of Clearview AI for facial recognition has resulted in the arrests of numerous criminals, including projectile-hurling “protestor” Oriana Albornoz.

As ICE has recently inked a contract with Clearview AI, we are sure to hear more on how this facial recognition technology will be used in law enforcement work.


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Below is our previous report on Clearview AI:

On the same date that U.S. Attorney General William Barr filed a brief that supported two New Jersey counties in their lawsuit against him over the state’s Immigrant Trust Directive, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal may have further tied the hands of law enforcement officers.

On Friday he ordered all New Jersey police agencies to cease using facial recognition technology that pulls photos from social media. The order was issued to all county prosecutors concerning the technology from a company called Clearview AI.

“Like many people, I was troubled,” Grewal said about the company’s technology, first reported in the New York Times.

The Times also notes that the company’s database contains more than three billion images that the company has “scraped” from Facebook, YouTube, Venmo and a number of other websites. According to law enforcement officials, the technology has been used to solve shoplifting, identify theft, credit card fraud, and murder.

Clearview says that its technology is an effective way to take down dangerous people. The company receives partial credit for a recent takedown of 19 men in New Jersey who officials said tried to lure children for sex.

The company’s main promotional video in fact features the attorney general and two New Jersey state troopers at an October press conference about that operation.

Also, on Friday, Grewal’s office sent Clearview a cease and desist letter to stop using that footage in its video, after Grewal said it was “irresponsible” for the company to reveal investigative techniques.

An attorney for Clearview responded and said in an email that the company had removed the video from its website and by Friday night it had been removed from Clearview’s website.

The use of facial recognition technology in New Jersey is nothing new. The Motor Vehicle Commission started using a version of the technology nearly ten years ago to hunt for fraud. A state report credited the technology with hundreds of arrests.

The difference between the technology used by the Motor Vehicle Commission is that particular program involved the use of a government database, while Clearview uses the so-called “open web” according to the company.

In other words, they use photos pulled from social media accounts. According to internal documents from Clearview, that amounts to millions of faces every day.

It is not known how many police officers in the state have utilized the database. According to Clifton Lt. Robert Bracken, that department has used the free trial version of the technology but had not purchased it.

“It’s like any tool, it’s used to develop leads,” he said. “But those leads have to be vetted.”

New Jersey state police use a different version of the technology, while the Newark PD has never used any type of facial recognition technology, according to a spokesperson.

Clearview did not respond when asked how many other agencies have tried the technology or how they secure the data they retrieve.

Grewal has asked county prosecutors to determine what agencies have used Clearview.

The use of facial recognition technology, especially from open sources such as Facebook, Twitter and so on raise the question about right to privacy. Since these platforms are public access forums, one would think that by posting private information, including pictures on them people would lose any claims of “right to privacy.”

As Lt. Bracken said, use of facial recognition is a tool that police can use in conducting investigations. It is one of many tools in the toolbox for officers to use. As he said, the information gathered needs to be vetted through additional investigatory practices.

In the investigation resulting in 19 arrests for the child sex ring, Grewal said that prosecutors in Bergen County used a subscription to the service during that particular investigation. Suspects would send pictures to undercover officers posing as children online.

The photos were then run through Clearview’s database, where the men were identified, and records were checked to see if the men had criminal records or owned guns.

While Grewal said he is not “categorically opposed” to the technology in general, he wants more information as to how Clearview obtains and protects its data.

One social media company in particular is not happy with Clearview. Twitter sent them a cease-and-desist order, demanding that Clearview “delete all data” and “return or destroy and Twitter material” shared with outsiders, according to a spokesperson.

Facebook and LinkedIn also prohibit “scraping” of information from their platforms. Spokespeople for both companies say that they are reviewing Clearview’s actions for possible violations.

Other tech companies have long resisted releasing such technology. Going back to 2011, Google’s chairman at the time said it was the one technology the company held back because it could be used “in a very bad way.”

The New York Times in analyzing the computer code used by Clearview includes programming language that could pair with augmented reality glasses, which would allow users to potentially be able to identify every person they saw.

The issue comes in because while the technology could be used for good purposes, it has the ability to be abused. For example, the augmented reality capability in the programming would allow identification of people, including not just their names but where they live, what they did and whom they knew.

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“The weaponization possibilities of this are endless,” Eric Goldman, co-director of the High-Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University told the Times.

“Imagine a rogue law enforcement officer who wants to stalk potential romantic partners, or a foreign government using this to dig up secrets about people to blackmail them or throw them in jail.”

Paranoid? Perhaps. But still, one can imagine that such a powerful tool is rife for abuse without some types of control.

As for people who find their photos on the site, people can ask Clearview to remove their photo(s) from the platform, however the company says that people requesting this must hold the copyright to the photo. In general the only person who holds a copyright to a photo is the one who actually takes it.

Of course, the ACLU has a problem with this whole thing. Sarah Fajardo, policy director for the group in New Jersey said that the tool can lead to “constant, warrantless searches,” specifically due to the lack of regulation of the technology.

This seems like a great tool for law enforcement agencies as long as controls are put in place to protect Fourth Amendment concerns. Along with other investigative tools, this can be used to put the bad guys where they belong, in jail.

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