Notorious facial recognition company Clearview AI has agreed to permanently halt sales of its massive biometric database to all private companies and individuals in the United States as part of a legal settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union, per court records.
Monday's announcement marks the close of a two-year legal dispute brought by the ACLU and privacy advocate groups in May of 2020 against the company over allegations that it had violated BIPA, the 2008 Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. This act requires companies to obtain permission before harvesting a person's biometric information — fingerprints, gait metrics, iris scans and faceprints for example — and empowers users to sue the companies who do not.
“Fourteen years ago, the ACLU of Illinois led the effort to enact BIPA – a groundbreaking statute to deal with the growing use of sensitive biometric information without any notice and without meaningful consent,” Rebecca Glenberg, staff attorney for the ACLU of Illinois, said in a statement. “BIPA was intended to curb exactly the kind of broad-based surveillance that Clearview’s app enables. Today’s agreement begins to ensure that Clearview complies with the law. This should be a strong signal to other state legislatures to adopt similar statutes.”
In addition to the nationwide private party sales ban, Clearview will not offer any of its services to Illinois local and state law enforcement agencies (as well as all private parties) for the next five years. "This means that within Illinois, Clearview cannot take advantage of BIPA’s exception for government contractors during that time," the ACLU points out, though Federal agencies, state and local law enforcement departments outside of Illinois will be unaffected.
That's not all. Clearview must also end its free trial program for police officers, erect and maintain an opt-out page for Illinois residents, and spend $50,000 advertising it online. The settlement must still be approved by a federal judge before it takes effect.
“By requiring Clearview to comply with Illinois’ pathbreaking biometric privacy law not just in the state, but across the country, this settlement demonstrates that strong privacy laws can provide real protections against abuse,” Nathan Freed Wessler, a deputy director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said in Monday's statement. “Clearview can no longer treat people’s unique biometric identifiers as an unrestricted source of profit. Other companies would be wise to take note, and other states should follow Illinois’ lead in enacting strong biometric privacy laws.”
Monday's settlement is the latest in a long line of privacy lawsuits and regulatory actions against the company. Clearview AI was slapped with a €20 million fine by Italian regulators in March and £17 million in November by the UK, both for violations of national data privacy laws. Australia has been investigating the company's scraping schemes since 2020 and, currently, a small group of US lawmakers are lobbying to ban Federal agencies from using Clearview's services entirely. But given that the company boasted in February that it had amassed 100 billion images in its "index of faces," the right to anonymity in America remains deeply in peril.