You’ve probably heard of Clearview AI, a company that unethically captured more than 10 billion “faceprints” from people’s online photos across the globe – without the consent do so. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against Clearview AI which recently resulted in a settlement.
The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU in Illinois state court in January of 2020 after The New York Times revealed that Clearview was building a secretive surveillance tool using biometric identifiers. Face recognition technology has helped Clearview to capture more than three billion faceprints, and counting, from images available online.
Illinois has a law called “Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act” (BIPA), which was adopted in 2008 to ensure that Illinois residents would not have their biometric identifiers, including faceprint, captured and used without their knowledge and permission.
The groups represented by the ACLU in the lawsuit – including survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, undocumented immigrants, communities of color, and members of other vulnerable communities, asked the court to order Clearview to delete faceprints gathered from Illinois residents without their consent and cease capturing new faceprints unless they comply with BIPA consent procedures.
The New York Times reported that Clearview AI agreed to settled the lawsuit brought by the ACLU. The settlement requires Clearview to not sell its database of what it said were more than 20 billion facial photos to most private individuals and businesses in the country. It can still sell that database to federal and state agencies.
The New York Times reported the following:
The agreement is the latest blow to the New York-based start-up, which built its facial recognition software by scraping photos from the web and popular sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Clearview then sold its software to local police departments and government agencies, including the F.B.I. and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
According to The New York Times, Clearview’s technology has been deemed illegal in Canada, Australia, and parts of Europe for violating privacy laws. Clearview also faces a provisional $22.6 million fine in Britain, as well as a 20 million-euro fine from Italy’s data protection agency.
Nathan Freed Wessler, a deputy director with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said in a statement to The New York Times: “Clearview can no longer treat people’s unique biometric identifiers as an unrestricted source of profits. Other companies would be wise to take note, and other states should follow Illinois lead in enacting strong biometric privacy laws.”
I find it extremely troubling that Clearview appeared to think it was acceptable to secretly gather photos of people’s faces – without their permission. It is even worse that Clearview was selling those photos in an effort to enhance its own profits.