Clearview stops selling facial recognition technology to businesses

Clearview AI promises to no longer sell its facial recognition technology to commercial parties in the US. The company may still provide its services to investigative authorities and governments. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sees the settlement as a victory.

The interest group reports this on its website.

Clearview AI is an American company engaged in the development of facial recognition technology. Over the years, the company has built a database of more than ten billion facial profiles. To set up this database, it used scraping software. This is a program that automatically visits public sources on the Internet and collects profile pictures and associated information. A proprietary facial recognition program then builds a facial recognition database.

For a fee, investigative and enforcement authorities worldwide are allowed to use the search function of the database. In the US alone, there are more than 2,400 agencies that do that. For example, the FBI used the software to identify and track down rioters who took part in the storming of the Capitol. The director of the intelligence service found the use of this technology justified in this case.

Clearview’s technology would also be used by the police in the Netherlands. Sander Dekker, the then Minister for Legal Protection, denied that. “Using Clearview is incompatible with legal provisions and violates our fundamental rights. The collection and processing of personal data for the purpose of criminal proceedings must be aimed at a concrete purpose, must be based on the law, and must comply with the principles of proportionality and subsidiarity. And this must be possible to monitor,” Dekker wrote in a letter to the House of Representatives.

Facial recognition technology is a civil rights violation

Opponents and critics have been very concerned for years about the way Clearview AI works. They believe that the company’s facial recognition technology violates the privacy of citizens. In addition, facial recognition can lead to discrimination, racial inequality, mass surveillance and ethnic profiling.

Major US tech companies such as IBMAmazon and Microsoft have therefore discontinued or restricted the use of facial recognition technology. They are waiting for politicians in Washington to introduce legislation that provides more clarity about the application possibilities.

ACLU and Clearview reach settlement

The ACLU decided not to wait for that and went to court. In the indictment, the US civil rights organization demanded that Clearview AI stop selling and free distribution of its facial profile database to commercial parties within the US. Clearview pledged in court to heed this appeal.

Furthermore, the company will not offer its services in the state of Illinois for the next five years. In the other states, Clearview is allowed to do business with the federal government, government agencies and investigative services. In addition, Illinois residents may opt out of the company to have their face removed from its profile database. The settlement states that Clearview is earmarking $50,000 to serve ads for this opt-out opportunity.

ACLU is happy with the settlement. “By requiring Clearview to comply with Illinois’ groundbreaking biometric privacy law not only in the state but nationwide, this settlement demonstrates that strict privacy laws can provide real protection against abuse. Clearview can no longer treat people’s unique biometrics as an unlimited source of profit. Other companies would do well to take note, and other states should follow Illinois’ lead by enacting strict biometric privacy laws,” said a civil rights activist.

Clearview violates European privacy law

Other European countries are also concerned about Clearview AI. Regulators and privacy organizations from France, Italy, Greece, Austria and the United Kingdom jointly filed a complaint against the company last year. They believe that Clearview is violating European privacy rules by collecting large-scale and automated biometric data from European citizens. No explicit permission has been given for this and there is no legal basis. Furthermore, Clearview AI is not transparent enough about what it does with the collected data and the company does not comply with the principle of data minimization.

“Clearview’s technology and its use are causing damage that European data protection law was supposed to remedy. Privacy International, therefore, calls on regulators to take coordinated enforcement measures to protect individuals from these highly invasive and dangerous practices,” Privacy International wrote in a press statement.

European member states impose multimillion-dollar fines on Clearview

The Italian regulator imposed a fine of 20 million euros on Clearview in March this year. The privacy watchdog concluded that the company unlawfully collected and processed biometric data and location data of Italian citizens. The company also violated European privacy laws and was not open and honest about its data collection practices.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)  fined Clearview AI at the end of last year of £17 million for violating UK privacy rules. Regulators from France, Sweden, Germany, Canada and Australia ordered the company to stop collecting photos of citizens and to delete photos already in the database.

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