Chat with us, powered by LiveChat

In Kennewick, Washington, the Benton County Sheriff’s Office is at the forefront of a heated debate over the potential use of Clearview AI, a powerful but controversial artificial intelligence photo search system designed to aid in the identification and arrest of suspects more efficiently. This tool, which taps into a database of approximately 30 billion publicly available images, has sparked a mix of concern and curiosity within the community, particularly in light of its recent presentation during a series of public sessions.

Unpacking the Controversy: Clearview AI’s Capabilities and Criticisms

Clearview AI’s software, capable of comparing photos and videos to a vast array of images scraped from social media and other public sources, has been met with skepticism by many Kennewick residents. During the third public session, attended by about 20 people, the majority expressed either outright opposition or significant apprehension regarding privacy infringement, the lack of sufficient safeguards, and Clearview AI’s history of high-profile errors leading to legal action.

Sheri Oertel, an attorney among the attendees, voiced concerns over potential misrepresentations by Clearview AI, echoing wider worries about the accuracy and ethical implications of such technology. Despite these concerns, sheriff’s detectives and commanders assured the public of their commitment to accountability, highlighting a proposed $7,500 annual subscription that would allow law enforcement access to Clearview’s AI system for investigative purposes.

Seeking Balance: Accountability and Ethical Use

To address these ethical and privacy concerns, the sheriff’s office has drafted an 11-page preliminary accountability report. This document outlines the intended use of the system, access protocols, and measures to minimize the collection of extraneous information. Additionally, it promises that Clearview AI will not independently make identifications, and the sheriff’s office will conduct annual audits of the software’s use.

Despite these assurances, the software’s deployment remains contentious. Clearview AI faces ongoing lawsuits over false identifications, including instances where individuals were mistakenly implicated in crimes due to the misuse of facial recognition technology. Critics argue that the software’s claimed accuracy may not extend to the low-quality or partially obscured images often encountered in criminal investigations.

The Path Forward: Public Sessions and Decision Making

As the Benton County Sheriff’s Office navigates these challenges, a fourth public comment session is scheduled for late February, ahead of a final decision by county commissioners. The office’s leadership believes that Clearview AI could significantly reduce the time and resources currently expended on manual photo and video comparisons, as demonstrated by the prolonged investigation following a shooting at a Benton City graduation party.

However, the prospect of integrating such a tool into law enforcement practices raises fundamental questions about privacy, accuracy, and the potential for abuse. The ongoing dialogue between the sheriff’s office, legal experts, and the community reflects a broader societal examination of the role and regulation of AI technologies in public safety and civil liberties.

As Benton County stands on the precipice of potentially becoming the first jurisdiction in Washington to employ Clearview AI, the outcome of this debate will likely have far-reaching implications for the balance between innovation in law enforcement and the safeguarding of individual rights.

 Request a consultation here.

Areas of Practice: DUI & Alcohol Offences, Criminal Defense, Personal Injury, Domestic Violence and Traffic Infractions.

We service Roslyn and Tacoma, Washington State and surrounding areas.

Review our client resources here

Contact us anytime for your urgent legal needs.

About Blanford Law:

We are no-nonsense, relentless, fair, and honest. We are great listeners instead of fast talkers, that is just who we are. More than 20 years ago, Ken began practicing law with a deeply-seeded belief that every person has the right to the best legal representation available. He built his law firm on that belief. Another belief that he strongly adheres to is his fundamental belief that clients deserve respect, with no assumptions or preconceived notions.  If you or someone you know is accused of a crime or injured as a result of the negligence of another, please have them call us at 253-720-9304 or email us