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ACLU sues biometrics company under Illinois privacy law


The American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations filed suit in state court in Illinois Thursday charging a company that collects biometric data for law enforcement with violating the Illinois Biometric Privacy Act.

“Given the immutability of our biometric information and the difficulty of completely hiding our faces in public, face recognition poses severe risks to our security and privacy,” states the lawsuit filed in state court in Chicago in American Civil Liberties Union et al. v. Clearview AI, Inc.

The lawsuit filed by the New York-based ACLU, along with other organizations, charges that New York-based Clearview AI Inc. “has violated and continues to violate the BIPA rights of Plaintiffs’ members, clients, and program participants and other Illinois residents at staggering scale. 

“Using face recognition technology, Clearview has captured more than three billion faceprints from images available online, all without the knowledge much less the consent of those pictured.”

The suit says the company “has failed, and continues to fail, to take basic steps necessary to ensure that its conduct is lawful, including by obtaining the prior written consent of the individuals who appear in the photos; informing those individuals of when their biometric data will be deleted; or even telling to whom Clearview will be disclosing or selling their faceprints.”

A Clearview spokesman could not be reached for comment. 

A blog on its website, under the heading “The Clearview AI code of Conduct,”  states its search engine is available only for law enforcement agencies “and select professionals” to use as an investigative tool and its results contain only public information.

“Nonetheless, we recognize that powerful tools always have the potential to be abused, regardless of who is using them, and we take the threat very seriously,” it states.

 “Accordingly, the Clearview app has built-in safeguards to ensure these trained professionals only use it for its intended purpose to help identify the perpetrators and victims of crimes.”

A federal appeals court earlier this month overturned a lower court ruling and held that a putative class action lawsuit alleging violation of BIPA can be heard in federal court, rather than in more plaintiff-friendly state court.