Clearview AI, the maker of facial recognition software, settled a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on Monday, agreeing to restrict its facial database in the United States primarily to government agencies and not allow most American companies to access it.
Under the settlement, which has been filed in an Illinois court, Clearview will not sell its database of it claims more than 20 billion facial images to most individuals and businesses in the country. But the company can still largely sell that database to federal and state agencies.
The deal is the final blow to the Startup in New York, which built its facial recognition software by scraping photos from the Internet and popular sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. Clear view then sold its software to local police forces and government agencies, including the FBI and immigration and customs enforcement.
But its technology has been considered illegal in Canada, Australia and parts of Europe for violating privacy laws. Clearview also faces a preliminary fine of $22.6 million in Britainas well as a fine of 20 million euros from the Italian data protection authority.
“Clearview can no longer view people’s unique biometric identifiers as an unlimited source of profit,” Nathan Freed Wessler, deputy director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said in a statement about the settlement. “Other companies would be wise to take note, and other states should follow Illinois’ lead in enacting strong biometric privacy laws.”
Floyd Abrams, a First Amendment expert hired by Clearview to defend the company’s right to collect and search publicly available information, said the company was “glad to have this lawsuit over.”
“To avoid a lengthy, costly, and distracting legal dispute with the ACLU and others, Clearview AI has agreed not to continue providing its services to Illinois law enforcement agencies for a period of time,” he said.
the ACLU has filed his lawsuit in May 2020 on behalf of groups representing victims of domestic violence, undocumented immigrants and sex workers. The group accused Clearview of violating the Biometric Information Privacy Act of Illinois, a state law that prohibits private entities from using citizens’ body identifiers, including algorithmic maps of their faces, without permission.
“This is a huge victory for the most vulnerable people in Illinois,” said Linda Xóchitl Tortolero, a prosecutor in the case and the head of Mujeres Latinas en Acción, an advocacy group for sexual assault and domestic violence survivors. “For many Latinas, many undocumented and low levels of IT or social media literacy, not understanding how technology can be used against you is a huge challenge.”
One of Clearview’s selling methods was to offer free trials to potential customers, including: private companies, government officials and police officers. Under the settlement, the company will have a more formal process around trial accounts so that individual police officers have permission from their employers to use the facial recognition app.
Clearview is also prohibited from selling to any Illinois-based entity, private or public, for five years as part of the agreement. After that, it can resume business with local or state law enforcement agencies in the state, Mr. Wessler.
An important exception is that Clearview can still provide its database to US banks and financial institutions under an exception under Illinois law. Hoan Ton-That, chief executive of Clearview AI, said the company had “no plans” to provide the database to entities besides government agencies at this time.
The settlement does not mean that Clearview cannot sell any product to companies. It will still be able to sell its facial recognition algorithm to companies without the database of 20 billion images. The algorithm helps match people’s faces with every database a customer provides.
“There are a number of other permission-based applications for Clearview’s technology that will allow the company to market more broadly,” said Mr. Ton-That.
As part of the settlement, Clearview admitted no liability and agreed to pay $250,000 in attorneys’ fees to the plaintiffs. The settlement has yet to be approved by a state judge in Illinois.