ACLU sues Clearview AI calling it a ‘nightmare scenario’ for privacy

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing controversial facial recognition provider Clearview AI over privacy concerns.

“Companies like Clearview will end privacy as we know it, and must be stopped,” said Nathan Freed Wessler, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project.

“The ACLU is taking its fight to defend privacy rights against the growing threat of this unregulated surveillance technology to the courts, even as we double down on our work in legislatures and city councils nationwide.”

Clearview AI has repeatedly come under fire due to its practice of scraping billions of photos from across the internet and storing them in a database for powerful facial recognition services.

“Common law has never recognised a right to privacy for your face,” Clearview AI lawyer Tor Ekeland said recently.

The company’s facial recognition system is used by over 2,200 law enforcement agencies around the world – and even commercial businesses like Best Buy and Macy’s, according to a recent leak.

In a press release, the ACLU wrote:

“The New York Times revealed the company was secretly capturing untold numbers of biometric identifiers for purposes of surveillance and tracking, without notice to the individuals affected.

The company’s actions embodied the nightmare scenario privacy advocates long warned of, and accomplished what many companies — such as Google — refused to try due to ethical concerns.”

However, even more concerning is Clearview AI’s extensive ties with the far-right.

Clearview AI founder Hoan Ton-That claims to have since disassociated from far-right views, movements, and individuals. Ekeland, meanwhile, has gained notoriety as “The Troll’s Lawyer” for defending clients such as neo-Nazi troll Andrew Auernheimer.

The ACLU says its lawsuit represents the first “to force any face recognition surveillance company to answer directly to groups representing survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, undocumented immigrants, and other vulnerable communities uniquely harmed by face recognition surveillance.”

Facial recognition technologies have become a key focus for the ACLU.

Back in March, AI News reported the ACLU was suing the US government for blocking a probe into the use of facial recognition technology at airports. In 2018, the union caught our attention for highlighting the inaccuracy of Amazon’s facial recognition algorithm – especially when identifying people of colour and females.

“Clearview’s actions represent one of the largest threats to personal privacy by a private company our country has faced,” said Jay Edelson of Edelson PC, lead counsel handling this case on a pro bono basis.

“If a well-funded, politically connected company can simply amass information to track all of us, we are living in a different America.”

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