Just two weeks ago Facebook settled a lawsuit alleging violations of privacy laws in Illinois (for the considerable sum of $550 million). Now controversial startup Clearview AI, which has gleefully admitted to scraping and analyzing the data of millions, is the target of a new lawsuit citing similar violations.
Clearview made waves earlier this year with a business model seemingly predicated on wholesale abuse of public-facing data on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and so on. If your face is visible to a web scraper or public API, Clearview either has it or wants it and will be submitting it for analysis by facial recognition systems.
Just one problem: That’s illegal in Illinois, and you ignore this to your peril, as Facebook found.
The lawsuit, filed yesterday on behalf of several Illinois citizens and first reported by Buzzfeed News, alleges that Clearview “actively collected, stored and used Plaintiffs’ biometrics — and the biometrics of most of the residents of Illinois — without providing notice, obtaining informed written consent or publishing data retention policies.”
Not only that, but this biometric data has been licensed to many law enforcement agencies, including within Illinois itself.
All this is allegedly in violation of the Biometric Information Privacy Act, a 2008 law that has proven to be remarkably long-sighted and resistant to attempts by industry (including, apparently, by Facebook while it fought its own court battle) to water it down.
The lawsuit (filed in New York, where Clearview is based) is at its very earliest stages and has only been assigned a judge, and summonses sent to Clearview and CDW Government, the intermediary for selling its services to law enforcement. It’s impossible to say how it will play out at this point, but the success of the Facebook suit and the similarity of the two cases (essentially the automatic and undisclosed ingestion of photos by a facial recognition engine) suggest that this one has legs.
The scale is difficult to predict, and likely would depend largely on disclosure by Clearview as to the number and nature of its analysis of photos of those protected by BIPA.
Even if Clearview were to immediately delete all the information it has on citizens of Illinois, it would still likely be liable for its previous acts. A federal judge in Facebook’s case wrote: “the development of face template using facial-recognition technology without consent (as alleged here) invades an individual’s private affairs and concrete interests,” and is therefore actionable. That’s a strong precedent and the similarities are undeniable — not that they won’t be denied.