Clearview's Facial Recognition System Violated Australians' Privacy, Regulator Says

Facial recognition company Clearview AI violated Australia's privacy laws, including rules prohibiting the collection of sensitive information without people's consent, the country's privacy regulator said in a decision issued Wednesday.

Clearview's practices “fall well short of Australians’ expectations for the protection of their personal information,” Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk stated.

Falk ordered Clearview to delete all images and faceprints of Australian residents.

A Clearview representative says the company plans to appeal.

The Australian decision comes one day after Facebook said it was shutting down its controversial facial recognition tool and deleting 1 billion faceprints.

Clearview, a controversial New York-based company, sells a facial recognition database to police departments and other agencies, as well as private companies.

Clearview reportedly created its faceprint database by scraping billions of photos from Twitter, Facebook and other companies, then deploying facial-recognition technology on those images.

Falk said in her decision that the “covert” collection of that kind of information “is unreasonably intrusive and unfair.

She added: “It carries significant risk of harm to individuals, including vulnerable groups such as children and victims of crime, whose images can be searched on Clearview AI’s database.”

Falk also said the case “raises questions about whether online platforms are doing enough to prevent and detect scraping of personal information.”

In Australia, Clearview provided “trials” of its facial recognition tool to some police forces between October of 2019 and March of last year, according to Falk's ruling.

The company said it stopped offering faceprint data to Australian law enforcement authorities soon after Falk's agency launched the investigation.

Clearview attorney Mark Love said through a spokesperson that the company “operates legitimately according to the laws of its places of business.”

“To be clear, Clearview AI has not violated any law nor has it interfered with the privacy of Australians,” he said.

Clearview founder Hoan Ton-That added through a spokesperson that the company has helped law enforcement solve “heinous crimes against children, seniors and other victims of unscrupulous acts.”

He said, “We only collect public data from the open internet and comply with all standards of privacy and law.”

In the U.S., Clearview is currently facing lawsuits in Illinois and Vermont.

In Vermont, the state attorney general accused Clearview of violating a consumer protection law by engaging in the “unfair” practice of using facial-recognition technology on photos of Vermont residents.

The Illinois lawsuits center on allegations that Clearview violated a state biometric privacy law that requires companies to obtain consumers' written consent before compiling scans of their facial geometry.

Clearview argues in that matter that it has a constitutional right to collect and use public photographs that appear online.

The company has drawn support from some First Amendment experts, including Eugene Volokh, UCLA law professor and founder of the blog Volokh Conspiracy. Volokh and others argued in a friend-of-the-court brief filed in July with U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Johnson in the Northern District of Illinois that the state's biometric privacy law conflicts with free speech rights by restricting how companies can use information that's already viewable by the public.

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