Surveillance company Clearview AI has agreed to permanently ban most private companies from using its facial recognition service, under an Illinois court settlement that alleged the company had built its business on data taken without user consent.
Refresher: Only true pandemic doomscrollers will remember Clearview’s rise to fame in 2020, when The New York Times detailed how the company’s facial recognition program scraped sources including Facebook and Twitter to build a huge image database.
- The program with billions of faces was sold to help law enforcement, financial institutions and private clients like Bank of America and Walmart identify people, while social media giants warned Clearview to stop scraping profiles for images.
- Clearview stopped working with private companies and individuals after facing blowback in 2020, but this new ruling makes it official—the company can still work with US federal agencies and police departments outside of Illinois.
In Canada: The technology was briefly used between 2019 and 2020 by the Ontario Provincial Police, officers in Halifax and Edmonton, and the RCMP’s National Child Exploitation Crime Centre (which resulted in the successful ID and rescue of two children).
- By 2020, Clearview has stopped offering its services in Canada entirely after provincial privacy authorities launched investigations into the company.
Why it matters: Last year, Canada's Privacy Commissioner concluded found the RCMP’s use of Clearview’s technology violated the Privacy Act, but noted that establishing limits on facial recognition technology remains incomplete, as it is not subject to a clear set of rules.
Canada’s law enforcement may have to look to Illinois when implementing new oversight functions, which will aim to make sure new technologies respect individuals’ privacy rights.