Clearview Data Breach Prompts Renewed Calls To Curb Facial Recognition

News of a data breach at controversial tech company Clearview AI is prompting renewed calls to curb the use of facial recognition technology.

Clearview AI recently notified its clients that the company's entire customer list had been stolen, according to a report Wednesday in The Daily Beast. Clearview's attorney said the company has “patched the flaw,” according to the report.

On Wednesday, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) responded to news of the breach by stating that it was “yet another sign that the potential benefits of Clearview’s technology do not outweigh the grave privacy risks it poses.”  

Clearview sells a facial-recognition database to police departments around the country. The company amassed its product by scraping billions of photos from Twitter, Facebook and other companies, then deploying facial-recognition technology to create a faceprint database.

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Last month, Markey expressed concerns about Clearview's technology, writing to Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That that law enforcement's use of technology to protect the public “should not come at the expense of our basic privacy rights.”

On Wednesday, he added that Clearview's failure to prevent the data breach threatens the public's privacy.

“If your password gets breached, you can change your password,” he stated. “But you can’t change biometric information like your facial characteristics if a company like Clearview fails to keep that data secure.”

New York state lawmaker Senator Brad Hoylman, who recently proposed a bill to temporarily ban the use of facial-recognition technology by police, also suggested that the data breach raises broader concerns about the privacy risks of faceprint databases.

“Clearview AI has a database of more than 3 billion photos of regular people that were stolen from social media sites,” Hoylman stated. “They couldn’t protect their own customer information from hackers -- we certainly can’t trust them to protect billions of photos they store of you and I.”  

Since news about Clearview first emerged last month, the company has faced widespread criticism. Twitter, Google and Facebook have demanded that Clearview stop scraping their sites for photos, several people brought a class-action privacy complaints, and New Jersey's attorney general told state prosecutors to stop using the service.

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