Clearview AI Nears Settlement In Privacy Battle Over Facial Recognition

Controversial facial recognition company Clearview AI is close to settling claims that its technology ran afoul of state privacy laws, according to court records.

Clearview and counsel for class-action plaintiffs said in a report filed Monday in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois that they “have worked through numerous drafts of the term sheet over the past week, and believe they have settled on a framework.”

U.S. Magistrate Maria Valdez noted on Tuesday that counsel for Clearview and the plaintiffs indicated they hope to finalize terms within a week.

If the deal goes through, it will resolve allegations that the Clearview violated a biometric privacy law in Illinois, as well as laws in California, New York and Virginia.

Clearview reportedly scraped billions of photos from Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms, used technology to create a faceprint database, and then sold that database to police departments, other agencies and private companies like Macy's.



In 2020, soon after The New York Times reported on Clearview's business practices, the company was hit with lawsuits by residents of several states, as well as the Vermont Attorney General. Officials in other countries, including Australia and Canada, also moved against the company.

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

The U.S. residents' lawsuits were consolidated into a class-action complaint in Illinois.

Among other claims, that complaint alleges that Clearview violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, which requires companies to obtain users' consent to the collection of biometric identifiers such as scans of facial geometry. The complaint also includes claims that Clearview violated state statutes in California, New York and Virginia -- including laws that give residents the right to control the commercial use of their images.

Clearview lost a key battle in the case last year, when U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman rejected the company's argument that it has a First Amendment right to collect and use publicly available photos that appear online.

That argument drew the support of some First Amendment experts, including Eugene Volokh, UCLA law professor and founder of the blog Volokh Conspiracy.

Coleman said in her ruling that even if the photos were publicly posted, the “biometric identifiers” gleaned from them aren't public information.

“Although Clearview captures public photographs from the internet, according to plaintiffs’ allegations, Clearview then harvests an individual’s unique biometric identifiers and information -- which are not public information -- without the individual’s consent,” she wrote.

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