How facial recognition is being used in the Ukraine war – Reuters News in France and abroad

In the weeks following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the footage of the devastation there, Hoan Ton-That, the chief executive of facial recognition company Clearview AI, began to ponder how he might get involved.

He believed that his company’s technology could provide clarity in the complex situations of war.

“I remember seeing videos of captured Russian soldiers and Russia claiming they were actors,” Mr Ton-That said. “I thought if Ukrainians could use Clearview, they could get more information to verify their identity. »

In early March, he contacted people who could help him contact the Ukrainian government. One of Clearview’s advisory board members, Lee Wolosky, an attorney who has worked for the Biden administrationmet with Ukrainian officials and offered to convey a message to them.

Mr Ton-That penned a letter explaining that his app “can instantly identify someone just from a photo” and that police and federal agencies in the United States use it to solve crimes. This feature has caused Clearview to carefully consider concerns about privacy and questions about racism and other biases within artificial intelligence systems.

The tool, which can identify a suspect captured on surveillance video, could be valuable to a country under attack, Mr Ton-That wrote. He said the tool could identify people who may be spies, as well as dead people, by comparing their faces to Clearview’s database of 20 billion faces on the public web, including “sites Russian social media such as VKontakte”.

Mr. Ton-That has decided to offer Clearview’s services to Ukraine for free, as reported earlier Reuters. Now, less than a month later, New York-based Clearview has created more than 200 accounts for users at five Ukrainian government agencies, which performed more than 5,000 searches. Clearview has also translated its app into Ukrainian.

“It was an honor to help Ukraine,” said Ton-That, who provided emails from officials at three Ukrainian agencies confirming they had used the tool. He identified dead soldiers and POWs, as well as travelers to the country, confirming the names on their official IDs. Fear of spies and saboteurs in the country has led to heightened paranoia.

According to an email, the Ukrainian National Police obtained two photos of dead Russian soldiers, which were seen by The New York Times on March 21. her face via the Clearview app.

The app surfaced photos of a similar-looking man, a 33-year-old man from Ulyanovsk who was wearing a paratrooper’s uniform and holding a gun in his profile pictures on Odnoklassniki, a social media site Russian. According to a national police official, attempts were made to contact the man’s relatives in Russia to inform them of his death, but there was no response.

Identifying dead soldiers and notifying their families is part of a campaignaccording to a Telegram article by Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov, to make the Russian public understand the cost of the conflict and to “dispel the myth of a ‘special operation’ in which there are ‘no conscripts’ and ‘no one dies,’ he wrote.

Images of conflict zones, of massacred civilians and abandoned soldiers on city streets turned into battlefields, have become more widely and instantly available in the age of social media. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky showed graphic images of attacks on his country to world leaders to plead for more international aid. But beyond conveying a visceral sense of war, these types of images may now offer something else: a chance for facial recognition technology to play an important role.

Critics warn, however, that tech companies could take advantage of a crisis to grow with little privacy oversight, and that any mistakes made by the software or those using it could have disastrous consequences in a war zone.

Evan Greer, deputy director of digital rights group Fight for the Future, opposes all use of facial recognition technology and said she believes it should be banned worldwide because governments used it to persecute minority groups and suppress dissent. Russia and China, among others, have deployed advanced facial recognition in city cameras.

“War zones are often used as testing grounds not only for weapons, but also for surveillance tools that are then deployed on civilian populations or used for law enforcement or crowd control purposes. said Ms. Greer. “Companies like Clearview are eager to exploit the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine to normalize the use of their harmful and invasive software. »

Clearview is facing several lawsuits in the United States, and its use of people’s photos without their consent has been declared illegal in Canada, Britain, France, Australia and Italy. He faces fines in Britain and Italy.

Ms Greer added: “We already know that authoritarian states like Russia are using facial recognition surveillance to suppress protests and dissent. Expanding the use of facial recognition doesn’t hurt authoritarians like Putin, it helps them.

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How facial recognition is being used in the Ukraine war – Reuters News in France and abroad


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