Immigrants’ rights groups are suing Clearview AI, a company that uses facial recognition technology and sells its services to hundreds of law enforcement agencies around the country.
Founded almost four years ago, Clearview AI has compiled a database of over 3 billion photos that its software can then use to sort out facial features in individual faces. The photos seem to mostly be pulled from platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Venmo. While founder and CEO Hoan Ton-has said that his company only has access to publicly available images, he cleared in a CNN interview that if Clearview keeps pictures on the database even after users have deleted or made their profiles private later on.
In a New York Times investigation published in February of last year, it was revealed that “more than 600 law enforcement agencies” were using this technology. And that it wasn’t just law enforcement, but other private companies as well that had acquired a license to use Clearview.
The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in California by activist groups Mijente and Norcal Resist, as well as other activists in the area. It claims that “Clearview has provided thousands of governments, government agencies and private entities access to its database, which they can use to identify people with dissident views, monitor their associations and track their speech,” and that its “mass surveillance technology disproportionately harms immigrants and communities of color.”
The controversy of Clearview’s technology dates back a long time, and criticism of facial recognition technology even further back, with hundreds of articles discussing what it could possibly mean for individuals’ privacy. Sejal Zota, one of the attorneys leading the case against Clearview, stated that its use of facial recognition technology made it “impossible to walk down the street without fear your likeness can be captured, stored indefinitely by the company, and used against you any time in the future.”
When asked to comment, a Clearview representative stated that “Clearview AI complies with all applicable law and its conduct is fully protected by the First Amendment.”
The lawsuit is currently in motion and is not the only challenge that the company is facing at the moment. Another lawsuit in Illinois alleges that Clearview’s use of facial recognition technology violates the state’s biometric privacy act.