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ACLU takes Clearview AI to Illinois court for alleged biometric privacy violations


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“We won’t let companies like Clearview trample on our right to privacy,” writes ACLU Staff Attorney Nathan Freed Wessler. The ACLU has decided to sue controversial biometric company Clearview AI, in an attempt to stop its privacy-breaching surveillance actions.

Clearview’s technology that collects billions of unique biometric templates has been criticized by a number of privacy advocates, as has its use by law enforcement units around the world. ACLU is not the first organization to take Clearview AI to court over data privacy concerns. There are also two separate BIPA (Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act) cases currently ongoing against Clearview.

“The company has captured these faceprints in secret, without our knowledge, much less our consent, using everything from casual selfies to photos of birthday parties, college graduations, weddings, and so much more,” Wessler says. “Unbeknownst to the public, this company has offered up this massive faceprint database to private companies, police, federal agencies, and wealthy individuals, allowing them to secretly track and target whomever they wished using face recognition technology.”

ACLU is taking Clearview AI to an Illinois court in the name of vulnerable communities such as survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, and undocumented immigrants. Calling the system “life-threatening,” the group accuses the biometric company of breaching BIPA, which requires a company obtain users’ written consent to collect biometric information.

Wessler believes Clearview’s surveillance technology will “destroy our rights to anonymity and privacy” if measures against it are not immediately implemented. As a result, lawyers at the ACLU of Illinois and Edelson PC law firm have joined forces to stop the company. Their demand is for an Illinois court to order Clearview AI to delete the data gathered from Illinois residents without their consent and stop all activity that doesn’t comply with Illinois law.

Edelson is one of the firms behind the BIPA suit Facebook reached a $550 million settlement agreement in earlier this year, among other major BIPA suits. CEO and Founder Jay Edelson noted earlier this year that he expected to file suit against Clearview. The New York Times said in 2015 that Edelson may by the most hated person in Silicon Valley, even before the wave of BIPA lawsuits his firm has been prominent in.

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