Facial recognition goes to war: How AI is being used in Ukraine

The Ukrainian government is reportedly using software developed by Clearview AI Inc. ("Clearview") to identify the bodies of Russian soldiers, killed in combat, to inform their family of their death.

Clearview says it has taken more than 2 billion images from the Russian social media service VKontakte to add to an existing database of 10 billion images.  The Ukrainian vice prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov has explained the use of technology "As a courtesy to the mothers of those soldiers, we are disseminating this information over social media to at least let families know that they they've lost their sons and to then enable them to come to collect their bodies," speaking via a translator in a social media interview.

Clearview has attracted regulatory scrutiny over the scraping of images posted on the internet.  The Information Commissioner's Office, in November 2021, issued an intent to fine Clearview over £17m for a variety of data protection breaches following a joint investigation with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (together, the "Joint Investigation" which we reported in our November update here). Garante, the Italian data protection supervisory authority, also fined Clearview €20m for similar breaches of the relevant data protection legislation. Clearview has responded to these fines by saying, respectively, that it "does not do business in the UK, and does not have any UK customers at this time" and that it expects customers to "verify that the use of this product is legitimate in light of the local regulations applicable to it".

Personal data, as defined under the EU and UK data protection legislation, only includes data which refers to living individuals. However, significant concerns were raised in the Joint Investigation report about the accuracy of the software. The Joint Investigation report said that it was "not satisfied that the steps the respondent took to ensure the accuracy(…) were reasonable in the circumstances", and that the respondent's referred to "no evidence that [it] designed, or engaged an independent expert to design, a methodology tailored to assess the accuracy of the respondent's proprietary technology". As the Joint Investigation report was issued in 2021, there may have been developments in Clearview's software subsequently. If not, there is a significant privacy concern that deficiencies in Clearview's software could lead to misidentification by the Ukrainian authorities.