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A federal district court has refused to dismiss putative class action litigation filed against a company charged with downloading more than 3 billion facial images from the internet in violation of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act.
The multidistrict lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago charges that New York-based Clearview AI Inc. “scraped” more than 3 billion photographs of facial images from the internet and then used artificial intelligence algorithms to scan the face geometry of each individual depicted to “harvest” the individuals’ unique biometric identifiers and corresponding biometric information, according to Monday’s ruling in In re Clearview AI, Inc., Consumer Privacy Litigation.
Clearview then created a database that allows users to identify unknown individuals by uploading a photograph to the database, which can be searched remotely by licensed users, the ruling said.
The lawsuit charges the company with violating BIPA, which requires businesses that store biometric information to inform the subject in writing that data is being collected or stored and the purpose and duration for which it is being collected, and also that they obtain the subject’s written consent. Numerous lawsuits have been filed under the law.
Among issues discussed in the ruling, the court rejected Clearview’s motion to dismiss the litigation on the basis its analysis of the public faceprint is protected speech, “and, thus, BIPA violates the First Amendment by inhibiting Clearview’s ability to collect and analyze public information.”
Clearview harvests individuals’ biometric information “without the individual’s consent,” the ruling said. Plaintiffs assert the company’s business model “is not based on the collection of public photos from the internet, some source code, and republishing information via a search engine but the additional conduct of harvesting, nonpublic, personal biometric data,” the ruling said.
“And as plaintiffs further allege, unlike fingerprints, facial biometrics are readily observable and present a grave and immediate danger to privacy, individual autonomy and liberty,” the ruling said, in refusing to dismiss the case on First Amendment grounds.
Separately, a memo filed with the court Wednesday objected to a motion by plaintiffs to compel the disclosure of Clearview’s financial information, stating they already have such information.
Asked to comment on Monday’s ruling, Clearview attorney Floyd Abrams, senior counsel with Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP in New York, said in a statement, “The ruling by its nature is preliminary in nature and we look forward to the discovery process after which we fully intend to seek the dismissal of the case.”
Plaintiff attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.
An Illinois state appeals panel ruled Friday that the statute of limitations under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act varies depending upon the charges in the case.