Tag Archives: Clearview AI

Clearview AI Settles Lawsuit Brought By ACLU

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.

Canadian Authorities Decided Clearview AI is Illegal in Canada

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada released a report of findings regarding Clearview AI. They sought to determine whether Clearview AI Inc.’s collection, use and disclosure of personal information by means of facial recognition tool complied with federal and provincial privacy laws applicable to the private sector.

Here are some of their conclusions:

  • They found that Clearview engaged in the collection, use and disclosure of personal information through the development and provision of its facial recognition application, without requisite consent.
  • They found that Clearview’s collection, use and disclosure of personal information through the provision of its facial recognition application was for a purpose that a reasonable person would find to be inappropriate.
  • They found that Clearview does not comply with sections of the law by using biometric information for identification purposes without the express consent of individuals concerned by and that Clearview IA did not disclose its database of biometric characteristics and measurements to the Commission.
  • As a result, the Commissioner recommended that Clearview “cease offering the facial recognition services that have been the subject of this investigation to clients in Canada.” Clearview must also cease the collection, use and disclosure of images and biometric facial arrays collected from individuals in Canada and must also delete images and biometric facial arrays collected from individuals in Canada from its possession.

If Clearview refuses to adhere to those recommendations, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada “will pursue other actions available to us under our respected Acts to bring Clearview into compliance with federal and provincial privacy laws applicable to the public sector.”

The New York Times reported the following:

Clearview scraped more than three billion photos from social media networks and other public websites in order to build a facial recognition app that is now used by over 2,400 U.S. law enforcement agencies, according to the company. When an officer runs a search, the app provides links to sites on the web where the person’s face has appeared. The scope of the company’s reach and law enforcement application was first reported by The New York Times in January of 2020.

According to The New York Times, Hoan Ton-That, the chief executive of Clearview AI, said Wednesday that the company stopped operating in Canada last July – because of the inquiry. The company had no plans to proactively delete Canadians from its database. The New York Times also reported that authorities in Australia and the United Kingdom are jointly pursuing an inquiry of their own.

Personally, I think it should be illegal to gather up people’s personal information – including photos of their faces – without first receiving permission to specifically do that. There is no valid reason for companies to secretly harvest random people’s photos and hand them over to law enforcement, especially when there is no evidence that the people have committed any crimes.