Clearview AI CEO claims First Amendment protects scraping of public biometric data

Clearview AI CEO claims First Amendment protects scraping of public biometric data

Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That appeared on CBS This Morning for an interview with correspondent Errol Barnett, after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from Google and YouTube demanding the company stop taking images from the companies’ platforms.

Barnett was matched by the company’s software with images of him scrapped from websites, within seconds, even with half of his face partially covered with his hand.

Ton-That notes in the interview that the system is used only for investigations following a crime, and can not be used as “a 24/7 surveillance system.”

Wired editor-in-chief Nick Thompson says the image-scraping practice Clearview used to generate its database “may be legal, but that certainly goes against the terms of service of companies like Facebook and Twitter,” and furthermore is creepy. He also notes that big tech companies holding millions of images or more have so far been unwilling to take the step of licencing facial recognition databases with them.

Gizmodo suggests that while Clearview’s practices may not be illegal, they may open the company up to civil liability under the vaguely-worded 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). A decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a data-scraping suit by LinkedIn against hiQ last year that data scraping does not necessarily violate the CFAA also declined to weigh in on First Amendment protection.

Former Facebook CISO and current Stanford Internet Observatory Director Alex Stamos Tweeted that Clearview may be liable for BIPA and copyright violations.

“We need a comprehensive privacy statute that covers biometric data,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation Staff Attorney Jamie Lee Williams, arguing the CFAA is not up suitable for dealing with contemporary privacy issues.

YouTube says its “Terms of Service explicitly forbid collecting data that can be used to identify a person,” and that the company has already admitted doing so.

Twitter demanded two weeks ago that the company stop scraping its platform and delete images it had taken from the social media platform.

Ton-That says Clearview’s legal counsel is engaged with Twitter, and that the First Amendment gives it a right to access public information. He compares Clearview’s service to Google’s search engine, which also pulls in data from around the web.

A Google representative called that “inaccurate,” saying web masters have control over inclusion in search results.

The company’s software is reportedly used by more than 600 law enforcement agencies, but how many are doing so on a free trial basis is unknown. New Jersey singled Clearview out for a ban, but Attorney General Gurbir Grewal told CBS he is “not categorically opposed to facial recognition technology.” Grewal also said he was unaware that the software was in use in the state until it was reported by the New York Times.

Ton-That reportedly said that an opt-out process for inclusion in the database is in development.

“YouTube’s Terms of Service explicitly forbid collecting data that can be used to identify a person. Clearview has publicly admitted to doing exactly that, and in response we sent them a cease and desist letter,” YouTube Spokesperson Alex Joseph told CBS News in a statement.

The Chicago Police Department is reported to have a $50,000, two-year contract with Clearview, and the Volusia County, Florida Sheriff’s office recently paid $10,000 for six one-year licenses to begin using the Clearview system following a 90-day free trial in January.

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