Clearview settles biometric data privacy lawsuit with ACLU, declares ‘a huge win’ for company
Clearview AI has settled a biometric data privacy lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups by agreeing to limit the sales of its face biometrics app and the use of part of its database.
The ACLU alleged that Clearview violated Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) when it built its database of reference templates from images found on the public internet, along with co-plaintiffs the Sex Workers Outreach Project Chicago, Mujeres Latinas en Acción and several other groups.
Under the terms of the settlement, Clearview has agreed to not license its biometrics to private companies, private individuals, or individual government employees not authorized to represent their state or federal agency. The ACLU suggests that this also ends the practice of encouraging adoption with free trial license marketed directly to individual law enforcement officers, instead of official channels.
The company also committed to limiting access to its forensic biometric app to law enforcement organizations in 2021.
“This settlement is a huge win for Clearview AI,” declares Jenner & Block Partner Lee Wolosky, representing the company, in a statement provided to Biometric Update. “Clearview AI will make no changes to its current business model. It will continue to expand its business offerings in compliance with applicable law. And it will pay a small amount of money to cover advertising and fees, far less money than continued litigation would cost.”
Clearview will further avoid selling to state and local police in Illinois for five years.
The settlement also stipulates that Clearview must delete biometric templates created before it ceased providing access to the database to private individuals and entities, other than meeting the conditions of document preservation associated with the company’s remaining ongoing litigation. The templates can be created or recreated based on BIPA exemptions or legal compliance, however, and may already have been.
“The settlement does not require any material change in the company’s business model or bar it from any conduct in which it engages at the present time,” Clearview representative Floyd Abrams of Cahill Gordon said in a statement. “Clearview AI currently does not provide its services to law enforcement agencies in Illinois, even though it may lawfully do so. To avoid a protracted, costly and distracting legal dispute with the ACLU and others, Clearview AI has agreed to continue to not provide its services to law enforcement agencies in Illinois for a period of time.”
When asked about the ramifications for the biometrics industry, Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That described the settlement to Biometric Update in an email as “a positive development, as it provides further certainty around the use of biometrics for government agencies.”
Clearview will operate a publicly-available opt-out mechanism, and pay $50,000 to publicize it online. The company has also agreed to cover $250,000 in plaintiff’s legal fees.
“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, wrote in a statement following the decision. “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.”
The advocacy groups were represented by Attorney Jay Edelson, a frequent BIPA litigant, among others.
“Clearview AI’s posture regarding sales to private entities remains unchanged. We would only sell to private entities in a manner that complies with BIPA. Our database is only provided to government agencies for the purpose of solving crimes,” comments Ton-That in a statement.
“We have let the courts know about our intention to provide our bias-free facial recognition algorithm to other commercial customers, without the database, in a consent based manner.
“Today, facial recognition is used to unlock your phone, verify your identity, board an airplane, access a building, and even for payments,” Ton-That continues. “This settlement does not preclude Clearview AI selling its bias-free algorithm, without its database, to commercial entities on a consent basis, which is compliant with BIPA.”
Clearview is still defending itself in multi-district litigation over alleged violations of privacy laws.
This post was updated at 9:23am Eastern on May 10, 2022, to include Clearview’s CEO’s response to an emailed question.