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Facial recognition technology is already used for security checks at airports, for police investigations, and for monitoring large events like concerts. However, existing technology generally images faces and matches them to a set database, such as a list of persons wanted by law enforcement. On the other hand, a new technology developed by the startup Clearview essentially allows the identification of anyone it images who has a presence online and also provides a list of links to sites to learn more about that person. You take a picture of a person, upload it and get to see public photos of that person, along with links. 

The company says the app accesses a database of more than three billion images, collected from social media sites like Facebook and YouTube.

Nyt.com claims that this could be used to identify anyone who steps foot in a public place, and it’s already in use by police in the U.S. The app has been provided to “hundreds of law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement officers have confirmed they have used the app to investigate crimes.

Federal and state law enforcement officers said that while they had only limited knowledge of how Clearview works and who is behind it, they had used its app to help solve shoplifting, identity theft, credit card fraud, murder and child sexual exploitation cases.

In addition to privacy infringement, this app carries extra risks because law enforcement agencies are uploading sensitive photos to the servers of a company whose ability to protect its data is untested.

The company has shrouded itself in secrecy, avoiding debate about its boundary-pushing technology.