More than 1,500 officials in 18 Ukrainian government agencies are using Clearview AI facial recognition technology. The tool helped Ukraine identify more than 230,000 Russian soldiers and officers involved in the conflict.
Kiev has also rapidly expanded the use of Clearview beyond identifying Russian troops on Ukrainian territory.
Ukraine’s “secret weapon” technology
TIME interviews with Ukrainian officials reveal that the country has relied on private US technology company Clearview AI, which has only 35 employees, to help carry out a series of wartime missions, many of these missions not previously reported. Has been done.
In particular, they use Clearview AI to detect infiltrators at checkpoints, solve cases of citizens who have lost identity documents, identify and prosecute members of pro-Russian militias and Ukraine’s collaborators.
Clearview AI also helped trace more than 190 Ukrainian children who were taken across the border to live with Russian families.
According to Clearview, Ukraine has conducted at least 350,000 database searches in the 20 months since the conflict began.
“The volume is incredible. Using facial recognition in war zones would save many lives, Hoan Ton-That, CEO and co-founder of Clearview AI, told TIME.
According to TIME, both the Ukrainian government and the American technology company benefit from the collaboration. For the Ukrainian government, they need equipment that can help them better defend against a stronger military.
For Hoan Ton-That (Ton That Hoan, 35, Vietnamese-Australian), it was an opportunity to prove the value of his company’s facial recognition software.
“This is a technology that shines and is really appreciated only in times of crisis,” he told a recent TIME video interview from New York. “I think people really understand it when their life or someone close to them is in danger.”
The thin line between “hero” and “villain”
Founded in 2017 with the backing of a group of investors including billionaire Peter Thiel, Clearview AI initially operated relatively secretly.
Over several years, they have created the world’s largest database of human faces by scraping data on the Internet and running it through facial recognition algorithms, which they claim can identify human faces with 99.85% accuracy. Is.
According to Hoan Ton-That, Clearview’s library of images of people’s faces has grown to 40 billion and is up 400% since the war in Ukraine began.
By 2018, Clearview quietly sold access to its databases to several agencies and governments. The company has extended operations to more than 600 law enforcement agencies, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the FBI.
In 2020, critics criticized Clearview as “scathing” after an investigation by The New York Times revealed the existence of the company, the size of its database, and its use by law enforcement.
Since then, Clearview has faced a wave of lawsuits, fines and cease-and-desist orders from the companies whose data was collected.
Clearview AI is considered illegal in Austria, France, Greece, Italy and the UK, allegedly violating EU data privacy laws, and the US private company is banned from selling access to its database.