Kudos to the American Civil Liberties Union, which won a legal settlement filed in court Monday against Clearview AI, the secretive facial surveillance company that claims to have captured more than 10 billion “faceprints” scrapped from online photos.
Once a judge approves the settlement, the company must adhere to the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). This law requires companies that collect, capture, or obtain a biometric identifier of an Illinois resident to first notify that person and obtain his or her written consent. This law has teeth. A BIPA lawsuit in Illinois led to Facebook’s agreeing to pay $650 million to settle allegations it used photo face-tagging and other biometric identifiers without the permission of users.
“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,” ACLU’s Nathan Freed Wessler told AP. “They broke through a very strong taboo that had kept tech companies like Google and others from building the same product that they had the technological capability to do.”
Though most states lack a biometric privacy law, this settlement in Illinois prohibits Clearview AI from making its faceprint database available to most businesses and individuals nationwide. It must pay for advertising to point consumers toward an opt-out request form on Clearview’s website, so Illinois consumers can have their faceprints blocked from appearing in Clearview search results. In Illinois, the company will cease to sell access to its database to state and local police for five years.
However, under this deal, Clearview AI will not be required to stop selling its services to federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies. That is one reason we joined with 70 other civil liberties organizations to urge Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to order his agencies to discontinue, or at least clarify, how they use Clearview AI data.
Last year, the Project for Privacy and Surveillance Accountability reported that as many as 3,000 law enforcement organizations may be accessing Clearview AI’s software for investigations. Still, the Illinois settlement should significantly limit the threat to Americans’ privacy posed by this company.
There is much left to do. But ACLU and its plaintiffs have achieved something significant this week.