Clearview AI is watching you, the CNIL consulted

An NGO collective has launched a European offensive against the startup.

© Fight for the Future

The group is determined to strike a blow. Privacy International, and several European organizations for the defense of privacy and digital rights have just announced the filing of complaints against the facial recognition startup Clearview AI. They start these proceedings with personal data protection organizations in France, Austria, Greece, Italy and the United Kingdom.

Based on information got from staff, as well as technical and legal analyzes of products, the complainants claim that the company’s data collection method violates European privacy laws. According to them, the company indeed uses an “automated image recovery device”. The latter scours the internet and extracts human faces spotted without asking their consent.

Facial recognition is debated in Europe

In France, it was the National Commission for Informatics and Liberties (CNIL) which was called upon for violation of the GDPR, the European regulation for protecting personal data. The Independent Administrative Authority will decide whether it sees fit to start an investigation.

British regulator investigation launched last year

Using an algorithm, they then processed these images to create a biometric database, access to which is sold “to the police and to private companies in various countries”, deplore the plaintiffs.

“European data protection law is very clear on the purposes for which a company can use our data,” observes Ioannis Kouvakas, lawyer at PI.

“Extracting our unique facial features, and sharing them with the police and other groups, goes completely against what an internet user would expect,” he adds.

British and Australian data protection regulators launched a joint investigation into the Californian company in July 2020.

In February 2021, a report by the Canadian Privacy Commissioner’s Office found she carried out illegal “mass surveillance” in Canada. The report noted that the US company had built a database of “over three billion face images.” The company withdrew from the Canadian market during the investigation.

Clearview has been a very controversial software since its inception. The police forces and especially in the United States where several services use it however appreciated this technology. It was recently used in particular to investigate the rioters on the Capitol following the incidents that occurred on January 6.

Note that facial recognition is in the sights of forty civil and digital rights groups who have launched a petition in order to get a million signatures. The ambition is understandable: to ban mass biometric surveillance in the European Union.

The European authorities have also tackled this issue head-on in a recent draft regulation. This technology should soon be better supervised and its use would be subject to special authorization.

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