Facial-recognition outfit Clearview AI has agreed to permanently refrain from selling people's faceprints to most private businesses, in order to settle allegations that it violated an Illinois biometric privacy law.
Clearview also agreed that it will not make available access to its faceprint database to any police or governmental agencies in Illinois for a five-year period. The company will still be able to sell access to its database to law enforcement agencies outside of Illinois.
“Clearview can no longer treat people’s unique biometric identifiers as an unrestricted source of profit,” the ACLU's Nathan Freed Wessler stated Monday.
The settlement agreement, if signed by the judge, would bring an end to a May 2020 privacy lawsuit brought in Illinois state by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and other nonprofits.
Clearview allegedly scraped billions of photos from Twitter, Facebook and other companies, used technology to create a faceprint database, then sold that database to police departments (as well as other agencies and private companies).
News of the company's practices came to light in early 2020, after which Clearview was hit with numerous lawsuits -- including the complaint filed by the ACLU in Cook County Circuit Court, a lawsuit by the Vermont attorney general, and a class-action in federal court in Illinois.
Officials in other countries, including Australia and Canada, also moved against the company.
Despite the ongoing litigation, Clearview reportedly told investors it now indexes 10 billion images of faces, and will soon be able to identify nearly everyone in the world.
The ACLU alleged in its lawsuit that Clearview violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, which generally requires companies to obtain users' consent before collecting scans of facial geometry and other biometric identifiers. That law, while broad, has an exemption for government contractors.
Clearview countered that it has a First Amendment right to collect and use public photographs that appear online. The company contended that restrictions on its use of biometric data unconstitutionally hindered its right to gather, analyze and disseminate truthful information.
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Pamela McLean Meyerson (who presides over the ACLU's lawsuit) rejected that argument last year. Separately, U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman (who is presiding over the federal class-action) also rejected Clearview's contention that its business model is protected by the First Amendment.
Clearview has also argued that its current business practices don't violate the Illinois biometric privacy law, because that law doesn't apply to government contractors.
The settlement agreement announced Monday will allow Clearview to resume selling biometric identifiers to police within Illinois after a five-year period. The agreement also allows Clearview to offer its database to companies that fall within exemptions to the Illinois biometric privacy law.
Meyerson could approve the settlement agreement as early as Wednesday, according to Eli Wade-Scott from the law firm Edelson PC, which was among the lawyers representing the ACLU and other organizations.