Facial Recognition: Complaint Made Against Clearview AI – French Data Protection Authority Urged to Investigate

On May 27, 2021, a coalition of civil society groups including Privacy International, the Hermes Center for Transparency and Digital Human Rights, Homo Digitalis and noyb, filed several claims in Europe against the U.S facial recognition firm Clearview AI. These claims were filed in France, Austria, Italy, Greece and the U.K.

This is not the first time that the start-up has been challenged. Indeed, it has been the subject of several complaints over the past two years: 

  • In January 2020, it was the subject of an investigation into its use of personal data in the United States. 
  • In February 2020, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Youtube, Venmno and LinkedIn “sent a cease-and-desist letter to the company ordering it to stop mining the social media platform’s data and delete anything it had already collected”. 
  • In a press release submitted in June 2020, the European Data Protection Committee, responding to members of the European Parliament, expressed “its concerns regarding certain developments in facial recognition technologies”. The committee highlighted its “doubts as to whether any Union or Member State law provides a legal basis for using a service such as the one offered by Clearview AI”. 
  • In July 2020, UK’s Data Protection Authority, the Information Commissionner’s Office, and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner jointly announced the opening of an investigation into the practices of Clearview AI. 
  • In February 2021, the Swedish Data Protection Authority (DPA) fined the police authorities for their use of Clearview’s facial recognition technology.
  • In February 2021, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada issued a report on Clearview and recommended to authorities that Clearview should “(i) cease offering the facial recognition services that have been the subject of this investigation to clients in Canada; (ii) cease the collection, use and disclosure of images and biometric facial arrays collected from individuals in Canada; and (iii) delete images and biometric facial arrays collected from individuals in Canada in its possession”.

With regard to the aforementioned claim made in France, the complaint was brought before the CNIL (French Data Protection Authority), denouncing the practices of Clearview AI. The coalition of civil society groups argues that “the American firm does not respect French and European law governing the use of personal data” and that it has constructed a database containing data pertaining to a large number of European citizens.

The coalition is therefore asking the CNIL “to open an investigation and (to) call on the company to stop collecting and processing the data of the citizens concerned”. In addition, the coalition has highlighted the fact that Clearview AI is able to establish a very precise makeup of each individual’s facial characteristics, which may mean that biometric data is being collected. However, such data are protected by European law and the unprotected collection and processing of such data may indicate that the company is doing so illegally.

The CNIL has not yet responded to the request from the coalition of civil society groups.

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