Senator Markey Demands Answers About Clearview Facial Recognition Tool

Clearview AI's controversial faceprint database “appears to pose particularly chilling privacy risks,” Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) says in a letter to company CEO Hoan Ton-That.

The lawmaker says he is “deeply concerned” that the company's tool “is capable of fundamentally dismantling Americans' expectations that they can move, assemble, or simply appear in public without being identified.”

Markey's letter comes in response to a recent New York Timesreport that Clearview scraped billions of publicly available photos from sites including Facebook and Twitter, used facial recognition technology to create a database of faceprints, and then sold that database to police departments.

The senator says he is “troubled” by the report, adding that law enforcement's use of new technology to protect the public “should not come at the expense of our basic privacy rights.”

Markey also warns that the technology could be “weaponized” in “vast and disturbing” ways.

“Using Clearview's technology, a criminal could easily find out where someone walking down the street lives or works,” he writes. “Widespread use of your technology could facilitate dangerous behavior and could effectively destroy individuals' ability to go about their daily lives anonymously.”

The senator is asking Clearview to provide a host of data, including information about which police departments have already purchased the facial recognition database, and whether the database is being marketed to anyone other than law enforcement agencies.

Clearview was also hit with one privacy lawsuit on Wednesday.

Additionally, Twitter this week reportedly told Clearview to stop scraping the site for photos.

It's not clear Twitter can enforce that demand, given that the scraped information is publicly available. Last year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that LinkedIn couldn't rely on the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, an anti-hacking law, to prevent its site from being scraped by analytics company hiQ. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act makes it illegal to access computer servers without authorization.

The appellate court ruled in the LinkedIn matter that the anti-hacking law doesn't appear to make it illegal to scrape data available on the open web. LinkedIn has said it plans to ask the Supreme Court to review the ruling.

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