Clearview AI Facial Recognition Technology Assists Miami Police in Homeless Man’s Arrest

Facial recognition technology is increasingly being deployed by police officers across the country, but the scope of its use has been hard to pin down.
In Miami, it’s used for cases big and exceedingly small, as one case Reason recently reviewed showed: Miami police used facial recognition technology to identify a homeless man who refused to give his name to an officer. That man was arrested, but prosecutors quickly dropped the case after determining the officer lacked probable cause for the arrest. 
The case was barely a blip in the daily churn of Miami’s criminal justice system, but it shows the spread of facial recognition technology and the use of retaliatory charges against those who annoy the police.
Lisa Femia, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which advocates for digital privacy rights, calls the case “a particularly egregious example of mission creep with facial recognition technology.”
“It’s often advertised as a way for law enforcement to solve the worst of the worst crimes,” Femia says. “And instead we have law enforcement here using it to harass the homeless.”
According to a police incident report, a man, who Reason is not identifying because he was ultimately not prosecuted, was sleeping on a bench in a parking garage at Miami International Airport on the morning of November 13, 2023, when he was approached by a Miami-Dade County police officer.
“While on routine patrol at the Miami International Airport I observed defendant sleeping on a bench in the Dolphin garage, covered with a blanket and unbagged personal items on airport luggage cart,” the officer wrote in his report. “The bench is provided for passengers waiting for vehicles to and from the airport. It is not designated for housing.”
The report notes that Miami-Dade police have been directed to address homelessness at the airport and that the officer initiated contact to see if the man had been previously issued a trespass warning.
The man didn’t have an ID, and he gave the officer a fake name and 2010 date of birth.
“Defendant was obviously not a 13-year-old juvenile,” the report says. “I provided defendant several opportunities to provide correct information and he refused.”
Under Florida law, police can demand identification from a pedestrian only when there is reasonable suspicion that they have committed a crime. For example, two Florida sheriff’s deputies were disciplined in 2022 after they
arrested a legally blind man
for refusing to show his ID.
This officer had other means at his disposal, though. “I identified defendant via facial recognition from Clearview, with assistance from C. Perez, analyst at the MDPD real time crime center,” the report says.
Clearview AI is a facial recognition technology company that created a massive database by scraping social media sites like Facebook and YouTube. It first came to public notice in 2020 after a

New York Times

investigation
revealed the company’s questionable methods and its partnerships with numerous local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies around the country.
As the Marshall Project
reported recently
, real time crime centers have also popped up in police departments around the country, allowing departments to harness both public and private surveillance networks to feed information to officers in the field.
“Further investigation revealed defendant was not on the airport trespass list,” the police report continues. “However, his failure to truthfully identify himself resulted in an unnecessary delay of investigation and required additional resources for a proper identification.”
The officer arrested the man on a single charge of “
obstruction by a disguised person
,” a first-degree misdemeanor crime in Florida.
However, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office dropped the charge the same day it was filed. A spokesperson for the office said in a statement to

Reason

that “the case was dropped due to the legal determination that there was insufficient probable cause to justify the arrest.”
In other words, his arrest was unlawful.
The Miami-Dade Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Facial recognition technology has been controversial. Reuters
reported
that about two dozen state or local governments banned it between 2019 and 2021, although many jurisdictions have repealed or chipped away at those bans in the years since.
Groups like the EFF argue that, while facial recognition technology may have many useful applications, it’s a privacy nightmare when combined with
rapidly proliferating surveillance camera networks
.
“Taken together, you’ve got a system that can quickly, cheaply, and easily ascertain where people have been, who you’ve been with, what you’ve been doing,” Femia says. “It changes what it means to leave your house and be just a private citizen going about your day.”
Femia says it’s not hard to imagine facial recognition technology being used to track people engaged in protected free speech activity, such as whistleblowers, union organizers, and protesters. The latter is not hypothetical; several major cities used facial recognition technology to identify Black Lives Matter protesters in 2020.
The BBC
reported
last year that Clearview’s database now includes 30 billion images and has been used by law enforcement nearly 1 million times:
In one case, facial recognition technology was used by a Florida defense lawyer to identify a key witness who was able to clear his client of vehicular murder.
But like other police technology, equipment, and tactics developed for extreme situations —cell-site simulators, armored personnel carriers, SWAT teams—the typical use will regress to the mean of police work.
The Miami case, Femia says, is “just another example of how the use of facial recognition technology can expand beyond solving murders or extreme crimes and be used to mass surveil the population.”