Facial recognition surveillance company Clearview AI has agreed to permanently ban most private companies from using its service under a court settlement. The agreement, filed in Illinois court today, would settle a 2020 American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit that alleged the company had built its business on facial recognition data taken without user consent. The agreement formalizes measures Clearview had already taken and shields the company from further ACLU suits under Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).
As part of the settlement, Clearview agrees to a permanent nationwide injunction restricting its sale (or free distribution) of access to a vast database of face photographs — many of which were originally scraped from social networks like Facebook. The injunction bars the company from dealing with most private businesses and individuals nationwide, including government employees who aren’t acting on behalf of their employers. It also can’t deal with any Illinois state or local government agency for five years. On top of attempting to remove any photographs of Illinois residents, it must maintain an opt-out program for residents who want to block any searches using their face or prevent any collection of their photographs.
Clearview can still work with federal agencies and local police departments, as long as they’re outside Illinois.
The ACLU hailed the settlement as a victory. “By requiring Clearview to comply with Illinois’ pathbreaking biometric privacy law not just in the state, but across the country, this settlement demonstrates that strong privacy laws can provide real protections against abuse,” said ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project deputy director Nathan Freed Wessler. “Clearview can no longer treat people’s unique biometric identifiers as an unrestricted source of profit. Other companies would be wise to take note, and other states should follow Illinois’ lead in enacting strong biometric privacy laws.”
Illinois is so far one of the only states to enact a biometric privacy law, making it a hub for activists trying to fight privacy-eroding facial recognition tools. Meta, formerly Facebook, agreed to pay $650 million under a class action BIPA suit last year.
Clearview already declared in 2020 that it would stop working with private companies, cutting off a list that at one point apparently included Bank of America, Macy’s, and Walmart. The company has focused instead on working with thousands of local law enforcement departments and federal agencies like the Justice Department, which have controversially used it for both general-purpose police work and unusual events like the January 6th, 2021 Capitol riot.
These contracts are still allowed outside Illinois under the agreement, although Clearview will no longer offer free trial access to individual police officers without departments’ knowledge. But the practice faces opposition from some state and local governments, where lawmakers have restricted government use of all facial recognition databases — including Clearview’s.