The data protection authority in Hamburg, Germany, for instance, last week issued a preliminary order saying New York-based Clearview must delete biometric data related to Matthias Marx, a 32-year-old doctoral student. The regulator ordered the company to delete biometric hashes, or bits of code, used to identify photos of Mr. Marx's face, and gave it till Feb. 12 to comply. Not all photos, however, are considered sensitive biometric data under the European Union's 2018 General Data Protection Regulation. The action in Germany is only one of many investigations, lawsuits and regulatory reprimands that Clearview is facing in jurisdictions around the world. On Wednesday, Canadian privacy authorities called the company's practices a form of "mass identification and surveillance" that violated the country's privacy laws.
Canadian regulators on Wednesday said facial-recognition-software company Clearview AI Inc. violated federal and provincial privacy laws in the country by offering its services there, though they acknowledged having limited enforcement powers in penalizing the New York-based company and others like it. Regulators said Clearview collected "highly sensitive biometric information without the knowledge or consent of individuals," affecting millions of Canadians. Clearview has a database of about 3 billion photos it scraped from the internet, allowing it to search for matches using facial recognition algorithms. The practices violated federal and provincial laws, regulators said, including in Quebec where express consent is required to use biometric data. Officials with four Canadian regulatory agencies said they completed an investigation into Clearview that began last February, finding that the company served 48 accounts for law enforcement agencies and other organizations across the country, including a paid subscription by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The facial recognition app Clearview AI is not welcome in Canada and the company that developed it should delete Canadians' faces from its database, the country's privacy commissioner said on Wednesday. "What Clearview does is mass surveillance, and it is illegal," Commissioner Daniel Therrien said at a news conference. He forcefully denounced the company as putting all of society "continually in a police lineup." Though the Canadian government does not have legal authority to enforce photo removal, the position -- the strongest one an individual country has taken against the company -- was clear: "This is completely unacceptable." Clearview scraped more than three billion photos from social media networks and other public websites in order to build a facial recognition app that is now used by over 2,400 U.S. law enforcement agencies, according to the company.
Clearview AI will no longer sell its facial recognition software in Canada, according to government privacy officials investigating the company. The end of Clearview AI operations in Canada will also mean the end of the company's contract with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, according to an announcement released today by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Canadian privacy officials started investigating Clearview AI in February following media reports about the company's practice of scraping billions of images from social media and the web without consent from the people in photos in order to create its facial recognition system. Critics say Clearview's approach could mean the end of privacy. Government officials from Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta provinces continue to investigate Clearview AI and Royal Canadian Mounted Police use of its facial recognition software despite Clearview's exit.
Civil liberties activists are suing a company that provides facial recognition services to law enforcement agencies and private companies around the world, contending that Clearview AI illegally stockpiled data on 3 billion people without their knowledge or permission. The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court in the San Francisco bay area, says the New York company violates California's constitution and seeks a court order to bar it from collecting biometric information in California and requiring it to delete data on Californians. The lawsuit says the company has built "the most dangerous" facial recognition database in the nation, has fielded requests from more than 2,000 law enforcement agencies and private companies and has amassed a database nearly seven times larger than the FBI's. Separately, the Chicago Police Department stopped using the New York company's software last year after Clearview AI was sued in Cook County by the American Civil Liberties Union. The California lawsuit was filed by four activists and the groups Mijente and Norcal Resist.