Face recognition surveillance company Clearview AI has agreed to permanently ban most private companies from using its service under a court settlement. The agreement filed in Illinois court today, would hold a 2020 American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit that claimed the company had built its business on facial recognition data taken without user consent. The agreement formalizes measures that Clearview has already taken and shields the company from further ACLU lawsuits under Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).
As part of the compromise, Clearview agrees to a permanent nationwide ban restricting its sale (or free distribution) of access to an extensive database of facial photos – many of which were originally scraped by social networks such as Facebook. The order prohibits the company from dealing with most private companies and individuals nationwide, including government employees who do not act on behalf of their employers. Nor can it deal with any Illinois state or local government agency for five years. In addition to trying to remove any photos of Illinois residents, it should keep a selection program for residents who want to block any searches using their face or prevent any collection of their photos.
Clearview can still work with federal agencies and local police departments as long as they are outside of Illinois.
The ACLU hailed the compromise as a victory. “By requiring Clearview to enforce Illinois’ groundbreaking biometric privacy law not only in the state but across the country, this compromise demonstrates that strong privacy laws can provide real protections against abuse, ”said the deputy director of the Speech, Privacy Project. and ACLU Technology. Nathan Freed Wessler. “Clearview can no longer treat people’s unique biometric identifiers as an unlimited source of profit. Other companies would be prudent to take note, and other states should follow Illinois’ guidance in enacting strong biometric privacy laws.”
Illinois is so far one of the only states to implement a biometric privacy law, making it a hub for activists trying to combat privacy-eroding facial recognition tools. Meta, formerly Facebook, agreed to pay $ 650 million under a class action BIPA suit last year.
Clearview has already stated in 2020 that it will stop working with private companies, cutting off a list that once apparently included Bank of America, Macy’s and Walmart. The company has instead focused on working with thousands of local police departments and federal agencies such as the Ministry of Justice, which have used it controversially and for general purpose police work and unusual events such as the January 6, 2021 Capitol Riot.
Those contracts are still allowed outside of Illinois under the agreement, although Clearview will no longer offer free trial access to individual police officers without the knowledge of departments. But the practice faces opposition from some state and local governments, where lawmakers have restricted government use of all face recognition databases – including Clearview.