Facial recognition surveillance company Clearview AI has agreed to permanently ban most private companies using his service are under a court settlement. The agreement, filed in Illinois today, was set to settle a 2020 lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union alleging that the company built its business on facial recognition data taken without the user’s consent. The agreement formalizes the steps Clearview has already taken and protects the company from further ACLU lawsuits under Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).
As part of the settlement, Clearview agrees to a permanent nationwide ban that restricts the sale (or free distribution) of access to a huge database of facial photos — many of which were originally scraped from social networks such as Facebook. The injunction prohibits the company from doing business with most private companies and individuals nationwide, including government employees who do not act on behalf of their employers. It also cannot cover any state or local government agency in Illinois for five years. In addition to efforts to remove photos of Illinois residents, it must maintain an opt-out program for residents who want to block facial searches or prevent their photos from being collected.
Clearview can still work with federal agencies and local law enforcement as long as they are outside of Illinois.
The ACLU hailed the settlement as a victory. “By requiring Clearview to abide by Illinois’ groundbreaking biometric privacy law not only in the state, but nationwide, this settlement demonstrates that strong privacy laws can provide real protections against abuse,” said ACLU deputy director Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. Nathan freed Wessler. “Clearview can no longer view people’s unique biometric identifiers as an unlimited source of profit. Other companies would be wise to take note, and other states should follow Illinois’ lead in enacting strong biometric privacy laws.”
Illinois is one of the few states to date to have enacted a biometric privacy law, making it a hub for activists trying to fight privacy-eroding facial recognition tools. Meta, formerly Facebook, agreed to pay $650 million last year under a class action BIPA suit.
Clearview already stated in 2020 that it would stop working with private companies, cutting off a list that at one point apparently included Bank of America, Macy’s and Walmart. The company has instead focused on partnering with thousands of local law enforcement departments and federal agencies such as the Department of Justice, who have controversially used it for both general policing and unusual events such as the January 6, 2021 Capitol uprising.
These contracts are still allowed outside of Illinois under the agreement, although Clearview will no longer offer free trial access to individual police officers without the departments’ knowledge. But the practice has faced opposition from some state and local governments, where lawmakers have restricted the government’s use of all facial recognition databases — including Clearview’s.