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U.S. district court gets Clearview AI’s attention; biometrics firm decries latest legal setback



The fight over biometric face-scraping and -selling is building like a professional wrestling story line, and, at least to some, Clearview AI is the heel. In a document that the firm filed in court August 17, it all but insults the bailiff’s mother.

The facial recognition startup’s business model is selling access to a mammoth database of face images that it has copied without permission, or scraped, mostly from social media platforms. Numerous objections, including in court, have been raised on privacy and social-justice grounds.

Last week, Clearview AI’s enigmatic CEO, Hoan Ton-That, sought to have dismissed or relocated three biometric privacy suits in Illinois. Three state residents in separate cases have accused Clearview AI of violating Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act.

Ton-That lost on all counts, and it would seem he is irked.

The documents were still warm from the printer when, this week, Clearview AI fired a five-point broadside on the decision.

The proposed order rejecting Clearview AI’s request for dismissal or relocation is a violation of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, according to court documents. The company is creating and disseminating information, which, the company argues, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 2011 is protected speech.

Also, the company says, it has already voluntarily implemented “technical solutions to prevent the collection of data from Illinois.”

Even if that were not the case, the state’s privacy act is irrelevant. Images on “the public internet” are not “demonstrably associated with Illinois residents.” The images on Clearview AI’s database have no meta data or indicators tying images to the state.

For that matter, the law cannot be applied to Clearview AI, the objection states, because the privacy act exempts government contractors. Although it was formed four years ago, it has exclusively operated only as a law enforcement contractor since May 2020.

(The company last December signed a contract with the U.S. Air Force. And it was paid as a contractor for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency August 12.)

And besides, according to the company’s lawyers, Illinois’ privacy act protects “biometric identifiers” without defining the term.

It is not known when presiding U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman will respond.

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