Staten Island Attorney’s Office Used Seized Assets to Buy Clearview Tech

The Staten Island District Attorney used the fortunes collapse to pay for controversial facial recognition software Clearview AI, according to documents obtained today by the Legal Aid Society.

Richmond County District Attorney Michael McMahon used funds from the Federal Equitable Sharing Program — an asset confiscation program that gives law enforcement agencies access to funds seized by local and state police using the federal asset confiscation statute – to buy the software in May 2019 for one year. Forfeiture is a term for the confiscation of property or money by law enforcement agencies, which is “forfeited” to the departments, which essentially take over the confiscated money or property.

The Equitable Sharing program expands on this, allowing local law enforcement agencies to circumvent state laws and “retain” property or funds at the federal level, allowing departments to invest more money after investigating to ensure the seizure was lawful – up to 80 percent – ​​can keep. In both cases, there is no need to report the confiscation of assets. While New York has regulations on civil forfeiture, the federal program helps departments circumvent them.

According to the New York-based nonprofit legal aid society The Legal Aid Society, documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request in January 2021 showed McMahon paid $10,000 for a year of Clearview AI for 11 employees. The source of the money remained a mystery until legal aid received these new documents.

According to the documents reviewed by the Daily Dot, in response to the Legal Aid Society’s FOIL inquiry about how the program was paid for, the Office of the Attorney General said that “funding for Clearview came from the Equitable Sharing Program.”

The January 2021 documents also revealed the unlimited nature of the Clearview application in Richmond County, potentially allowing the service to be used at relatively low fees. Clearview AI is a facial recognition startup that has created a huge database of images of people by removing them from the internet. It sells its services to government agencies and police departments.

Law enforcement’s use of Clearview has come under fire over the past year, with lawmakers writing letters to various federal law enforcement agencies in February, urging agencies to stop using the technology as it “poses a serious threat to civics.” freedoms and privacy rights of the public.” Facial recognition technology also carries a clear racial bias, lawmakers noted, citing a study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology that found blacks, browns, and Asians “with up to 100 times higher Likelihood of being misidentified as white male faces. ”

“The revelation that the funds used to access the Clearview AI service came from property acquired without due process by the same people most at risk from the devastating consequences of their mistakes is almost dystopian Diane Akerman, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s Digital Forensics Unit, said in a press release.

Earlier this week lawmakers on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform urged the Justice Department to crack down on abuse of the Equitable Sharing Program, saying they were “concerned that the DOJ is not conducting adequate oversight of law enforcement agencies participating in the Equitable Sharing Program.” and that some authorities received money from a case despite playing “no discernible role in the underlying seizure.”

The Staten Island Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment from the Daily Dot.

Read more about the Daily Dot’s technical and political coverage

*Initial publication: May 4, 2022 3:37 pm CDT

Jacob Seitz

Jacob Seitz is a freelance journalist from Columbus, Ohio, interested in the intersection of culture and politics.

Jacob Seitz Staten Island Attorney’s Office Used Seized Assets to Buy Clearview Tech

Jaclyn Diaz

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