Clearview AI banned selling facial recognition to private companies

  • Clearview AI is now barred from selling its facial recognition technology to private US companies, according to a court settlement.
  • The agreement, filed Monday, also prohibits sales to Illinois state agencies for five years.
  • The ACLU sued Clearview AI under an Illinois privacy law that restricts the sale of biometric information, such as images of faces.

Facial recognition company Clearview AI will no longer be able to sell its software to US-based companies and private entities, according to a settlement agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union that was filed in an Illinois court on Monday.

Under the terms of the agreement, Clearview AI, which maintains a database of more than 20 billion faces drawn from the internet, according to the company, is also restricted from selling its software to any Illinois state agency, including law enforcement. for five years. . The agreement does not restrict Clearview AI’s contracts with federal agencies or with contractors working on behalf of federal agencies, including within Illinois.

The company, which markets primarily to law enforcement, has given its software to more than 200 private entities in the past, BuzzFeed News reports. Employees at Walmart, Bank of America, Equinox, and other companies collectively conducted thousands of facial recognition searches using Clearview AI. The billionaire CEO of the Gristedes supermarket chain reportedly had private access to Clearview AI software and used it to spy on his daughter’s dates.

The lawsuit against Clearview AI, which was filed by the ACLU and several other organizations in February 2020, argued that the company violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, which protects Illinois residents from having their biometric information, which includes images of faces, be sold. without your consent.

“I hope other states see how effective this law can be and soon join Illinois in protecting state residents,” Nathan Freed Wessler, deputy director of the ACLU’s Technology, Privacy and Speech Project, told Insider.

Clearview AI’s lawyers told Insider that the deal is a “huge win” for the company and does not require material changes to its business model. In a statement, CEO Hoan Ton-That said: “We would only sell to private entities in a BIPA-compliant manner.”

Clearview AI recently rode a wave of positive publicity after announcing that Ukrainian soldiers were using its software to identify soldiers killed during the invasion of Russia. Even so, the agreement shows that it still faces serious image and legal compliance problems at the national level.

In the US, the company has had its fair share of scandals, including Ton-That’s ties to the far right and accusations that it unintentionally deletes people’s photos from the internet. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Venmo and LinkedIn have issued cease and desist orders against the company, demanding that it stop collecting their images. Clearview AI has also been criticized by other biometric companies for giving the surveillance industry a bad name.

The deal does not restrict Clearview AI from selling to foreign-based companies, which the company has done in the past. For example, Clearview AI turned over its software to the Center for Advanced AI Studies, a privately run think tank based in Saudi Arabia, BuzzFeed News previously reported. The center’s clients include the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority.

The company has also offered free trials of its software to police departments in dozens of countries around the world. It once boasted of “rapid international expansion” to at least 22 countries, according to a previous BuzzFeed News report.

The terms of the settlement also prohibit Clearview AI from providing free testing to individual police officers or government employees not acting “in their official capacity” as public employees. Wessler told Insider that this language prevents police officers from getting free trials without the explicit knowledge and prior approval of a superior.

Clearview AI began requiring this approval in March 2020. Prior to that, Clearview AI offered free trials to thousands of individual police officers, who used the software without their departments’ knowledge, according to a BuzzFeed News report.

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