Clearview AI agrees to restrict US facial recognition sales primarily to law enforcement

CNN Business

Clearview AI, a controversial facial recognition software company, agreed on Monday that it will not sell its software to most companies in the United States – a move that will largely limit its use to law enforcement in the country. .

The agreement is part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed against the company in Illinois state court two years ago by the American Civil Liberties Union and several other nonprofits.

New York-based Clearview also agreed as part of the settlement that it would not offer free trials of its software to individual police officers without their superiors’ approval. In Illinois itself, Clearview is banned for five years from selling its software, including to state or local law enforcement agencies, according to the agreement.

Clearview had told CNN Business in the past that it had limited the use of its software to law enforcement; the regulations make this previously voluntary decision a requirement.

The ACLU filed its lawsuit in 2020, alleging Clearview violated Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), which requires companies to obtain consent from individuals before collecting or using their information. biometrics. Illinois is one of the few states in the United States to have such biometric privacy laws (Texas and Washington, for example, have their own rules).

“Clearview AI’s position regarding sales to private entities remains unchanged,” Hoan Ton-That, CEO of Clearview AI, said in a statement. “We would only sell to private entities in a BIPA-compliant manner. Our database is only provided to government agencies for the purpose of solving crimes.

Facial recognition software has become increasingly common in the United States in recent years, but it has also been criticized by privacy and digital rights groups for privacy concerns and other actual and potential dangers. The settlement is the latest signal that opponents of the technology are gaining traction.

“This is a victory for Illinois residents; this is a victory for people across the country in protecting their privacy,” Nate Freed Wessler, deputy director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, told CNN Business.

Founded in 2017, Clearview has compiled billions of photos into a database for its software, which can be used on a smartphone to identify individual people. The company claimed to have retrieved more than 20 billion photos from the internet, including photos from popular social media platforms, news websites, mugshot websites, etc., which would make it bigger than any other known database of these images.

Major tech companies have sent the company cease-and-desist notices in the past, arguing that its photo-snag practices violate their terms of service, and several lawsuits have been filed against the company over its use. monitoring technology. Clearview’s software has been deemed illegal in some countries, including Canada and Australia.

The company said its current customers include more than 3,100 US agencies, including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. A June 2021 report from the US Government Accountability Office, based on a survey of 42 federal agencies, said 10 agencies used Clearview AI between April 2018 and March 2020, including the FBI, Secret Service, DEA, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. (The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, for example, told GAO that it uses software from Clearview AI to help track down those suspected of crimes, such as theft and opening of mail and theft in postal service buildings.)