James Martin/CNET

The client list of Clearview AI, a controversial facial recognition app being used by US law enforcement to identify suspects and other people, has been leaked. Its customers reportedly include not only law enforcement agencies like ICE and the Justice Department, but also companies like retail giant Macy’s. BuzzFeed News’ Thursday report cited an internal document it obtained.

ICE confirmed its use of Clearview AI in an emailed statement, saying it’s primarily for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents who investigate child exploitation and cybercrime cases.

Clearview AI has also reportedly been used by some people working at the FBI, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Interpol, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Best Buy, the NBA, Eventbrite, Las Vegas Sands, Coinbase, Bank of America, Walmart and Kohl’s.

“This list, if confirmed, is a privacy, security, and civil liberties nightmare,” said Nathan Freed Wessler, American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney. “Government agents should not be running our faces against a shadily assembled database of billions of our photos in secret and with no safeguards against abuse.”

Clearview AI didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but the company’s attorney said Wednesday that security is its “top priority.” Tor Ekeland, Clearview AI’s attorney, was responding to the data breach that saw the customer list leaked, as well as the number of searches those customers have made and how many accounts customers had set up.

The app identifies people by comparing photos to a database of images scraped from social media and other sites. It came under fire after a New York Times investigation into the software company last month, with Clearview AI being called a “chilling” privacy risk by Democratic Sen. Edward Markey in late January. Google, YouTube, Microsoft and Twitter have sent cease-and-desist letters to Clearview AI since, and the company is also facing multiple lawsuits.

This is a crisis for our democracy,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, said in a statement. “Lawmakers need to get off their butts, do their jobs, and pass legislation to ban the use of facial recognition surveillance not just by government agencies but by corporations too.”

Coinbase said it has not yet made a commitment to use Clearview AI.

“Our security and compliance teams tested Clearview AI to see if the service could meaningfully bolster our efforts to protect employees and offices against physical threats and investigate fraud,” a Coinbase spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We have not tested nor would we use Clearview AI’s service with our customer data. We maintain strict privacy controls that prevent customer data from being used in this manner.” 

The FBI declined to comment. Best Buy denied ever using or planning to use Clearview AI. NBA is not and has never been a client of the service. Bank of America said it is not a customer.

ICE, the Department of Justice, Interpol, CBP, Macy’s, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Eventbrite, Las Vegas Sands, Walmart and Kohl’s didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The report also said Clearview AI has expanded to law enforcement agencies in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, India, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Originally published Feb. 27, 2:11 p.m. PT.
Update, 2:30 p.m.: Adds Best Buy denial, info on more companies, expansion globally; 2:33 p.m.: NBA has never been a client; 2:35 p.m.: Adds Bank of America denial; 2:56 p.m.: Adds Coinbase statement; 3:05 p.m.: Adds statements from ACLU and Fight For The Future.



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