I must admit that as I sit down to write this I’m conflicted. After 18 months in Kyiv I’ve developed an even greater affinity for the Ukrainian people than my personal heritage might suggest. This country and its people have suffered four genocidal events over the past century including of course, the most recent Russian invasion. I’d say they finally deserve some peace, but after reading a recent article in TIME magazine Ukraine’s ‘Secret Weapon’ Against Russia is Clearview AI, I’m concerned that any eventual peace may come with an expected price.
The Fog of War
As you’ll find in my previous blog or podcast, Clearview AI is a 35-person technology company that’s built an alarming facial recognition software program by scraping billions of images & corresponding names from the Internet. They then sell this data to governments and law enforcement agencies around the world. Since the most recent escalation of the conflict in Ukraine, Clearview AI has found an interesting new market niche: identifying Russian soldiers, dead or alive.
The brutal war has left hundreds of thousands of casualties, untold destruction, human rights abuses and war crimes that must be documented, and the perpetrators punished. Soon after the illegal Russian invasion, Clearview AI provided their facial recognition software to the Government of Ukraine for free. The Ukrainian military identifies Russian soldiers through Clearview AI and the millions of images it scraped from the Saint Petersburg-based social media site VKontakte.
A Picture Worth a Thousand Words
So far 71,000 Russian casualties have been identified and posted on a website accessible to grieving wives, mothers & daughters. I think it’s a brilliant way to sow domestic anti-war sentiments within Russia.
Furthermore, evidence is being compiled against the perpetrators of war crimes like the Bucha massacre. Clearview AI is now an essential technology for Ukrainian prosecutors searching for separatists in Crimea who assisted the Russian invaders back in 2014. Ukrainian border guards also employ the tool to identify Russian agents trying to enter the country.
There’s no question that Clearview AI is truly being used for good in Ukraine, however, what happens when the war is over? It’s damn hard to put the genie back in the bottle once it’s out.
Don’t Diia it!
Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation is a big fan of Clearview AI, and he plans to embed it within the country’s digital infrastructure. This is a scary thought considering Ukraine’s Diia digital identity app is the centre of that infrastructure. Imagine, every time you open your national digital ID app, your face is compared to 30 billion Internet images by a private company’s AI database. Your government and Clearview will always know who you are what you’ve posted, and those links could be used to profile or even prosecute you.
Identifying and prosecuting war criminals is one thing. But using a tool like ClearviewAI to identify ordinary Ukrainian citizens as they go about their peaceful daily lives is another. I believe that Clearview AI is a technology weapon and should only be used in extreme circumstances. Haven’t Ukrainians had more than enough of weapons?
Slava Ukraini! Heroiam Slava!