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Verdicts & Settlements

Facial Recognition Software Company Settles ACLU Suit

— May 20, 2022

Company settles case involving pulling images from the internet without people’s consent.

Clearview AI, a facial recognition company, has settled claims that it violated Illinois’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) and collected people’s images without their consent.  The company’s algorithm matches individuals’ faces to a repository of more than three billion images.  It has agreed to perpetually stop selling access to its database to private businesses and will put a limit on what it can do with its already indexed photos which have been pulled from social media and by other means on the internet.

Clearview is agreeing to stop making its database available to the Illinois state government and local police departments, as well, for five years.  Yet, it will continue to offer its services to federal agencies, such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The deal will conclude a two-year-old suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Clearview still faces a separate privacy case before an Illinois-based federal judge.

Facial Recognition Software Company Settles ACLU Suit
Photo by Tracy Le Blanc from Pexels

“Clearview can no longer treat people’s unique biometric identifiers as an unrestricted source of profit,” the ACLU’s deputy director for privacy Nathan Wessler said.

“This is a huge win,” added Linda Xóchitl Tortolero, president of Chicago-based Mujeres Latinas en Acción.  The group felt the images could end up in the wrong hands and be used by predatory stalkers, criminals, ex-partners or companies to track a person’s whereabouts.  This could easily turn into a dangerous situation for the person whose image is circulating publicly.

Clearview stood behind its business model, recently announcing on its site, “This is an exciting time for our team and our customers, as we release Clearview AI 2.0.  When we first launched our facial recognition solution for law enforcement, we believed it would help make communities safer.  And we are proud to say it has.”  Giving a specific example, it continued, “Most recently, we have offered our solution to the Ukraine Ministry of Defense to aid in their wartime efforts and to use facial recognition to help identify and vet individuals and reunite refugees.”

Clearview’s attorney, Floyd Abrams, said during the announcement of the settlement with the ACLU, the company is “pleased to put this litigation behind it,” adding, “The settlement does not require any material change in the company’s business model or bar it from any conduct in which it engages at the present time.”  He noted that Clearview “was already not providing its services to police agencies in Illinois and agreed to the five-year moratorium to avoid a protracted, costly, and distracting legal dispute with the ACLU and others.”

Moreover, he said, “While the current settlement reins in Clearview’s practices significantly, it should not end scrutiny of the company by federal and state lawmakers.  This company’s approach was effectively a Silicon Valley mentality of let’s break things first and then figure out how to clean up the mess later in order to try to make a profit.  They broke through a very strong taboo that had kept big tech companies like Google and others from building the same product that they had the technological capability to do.”


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