A hot potato: Clearview AI has found itself in a sticky legal situation by allowing law enforcement access to a facial recognition database full of images it has scraped from the internet. Tech companies are distancing themselves from the service by demanding the company stop collecting data from their websites.
Facebook has become the latest company to “demand” that Clearview AI stop scraping its platforms for its facial recognition database. The social media giant has sent the company several letters asking it to stop using user data from Facebook and Instagram but has not yet issued a formal cease and desist letter.
“Scraping people’s information violates our policies,” a spokesperson for Facebook told CBSNews on Thursday. “Which is why we’ve demanded that Clearview stop accessing or using information from Facebook or Instagram.”
Facebook has not decided whether to take its demand to the next level yet, but other companies already have. Twitter sent Clearview a C&D letter in January. YouTube and Google have also issued legal warnings to the startup earlier this week.
Clearview’s database contains more than three billion images obtained from the internet. Its intended purpose is to aid law enforcement in identifying suspects in crimes or other “persons of interest.”
The company maintains that it is above-board on the data that it collects. Clearview AI CEO Hoan Tan-That said in an interview, “If it’s public, you know, and it’s out there, it could be inside Google search engine, it can be inside ours as well.”
As Google pointed out, there is a big difference between indexing websites, which it does with the website owner’s permission, and scraping images and information on private individuals without their consent.
“Comparisons to Google Search are inaccurate. Most websites want to be included in Google Search, and we give webmasters control over what information from their site is included in our search results, including the option to opt-out entirely. Clearview secretly collected image data of individuals without their consent and in violation of rules explicitly forbidding them from doing so.”
Tan-That also claims his company’s practices are protected by the First Amendment, a claim that he will likely have to prove in court if the situation escalates.
It is easy to forget that the Bill of Rights is a set of restrictions placed on the government to protect the people. The First Amendment restricts the government from enacting laws or taking action that infringes on the individual’s freedom of speech. It does not mention any other types of impediments, such as a company adding restrictions to the language used on its premises or platform.
In this case, Clearview collects data without the individual’s knowledge or permission, and it ultimately ends up in the hands of the government (law enforcement). One could easily argue the company’s data collection is a violation of a person’s Fourth Amendment right to privacy and protection from illegal search and seizure.
If Clearview AI persists, it will very likely end up in court with a very shaky Constitutional defense. ZDNet notes, the startup is already facing a class-action lawsuit in Illinois for violating the state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act. We’ll have to wait and see just how many legal challenges the company is willing or able to withstand.
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