Clearview AI is facing another legal challenge over concerns about it providing facial recognition services to law enforcement agencies across the United States.

In May last year, the firm was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in which it alleged that Clearview’s technology runs afoul of the 2008 Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act.

But now the firm was been hit with a fresh lawsuit in California by two immigrants’ rights groups, in an effort to stop the company’s surveillance technology from proliferating in the state.

Clearview AI lawsuit

Clearview AI is a facial recognition company that developed technology to match faces to a database of more than three billion faces indexed from Internet social media websites and other sources such as Twitter, YouTube, Google and Facebook.

This policy has angered some social networking firms.

In January 2020 Twitter demanded that Clearview delete all the images it had pulled from its platform, and stop all photo collection going forward.

Google and Facebook have also filed cease-and-desist letters.

But the damage may have already been done, after Clearview AI admitted in February 2020 that its database, containing the images of billions of people, had been stolen.

Now CNN has reported that New York-based Clearview AI is being sued in California after a complaint was filed Tuesday in California Superior Court in Alameda County.

This lawsuit was filed by Hispanic social network Mijente, campaign group NorCal Resist, and four individuals who identify as political activists.

They allege that Clearview AI’s software is still used by state and federal law enforcement to identify individuals, despite the fact that several California cities have banned government use of facial recognition technology.

California use?

In 2019 San Francisco banned the use of facial recognition technology, meaning that local agencies, such as the local police force and other city agencies such as transportation would not be able to utilise the technology in any of their systems.

California as a whole has also restricted use of the technology.

The fresh lawsuit however alleges that Clearview AI’s database of images violates the privacy rights of people in California broadly and that the company’s “mass surveillance technology disproportionately harms immigrants and communities of colour.”

Sejal Zota, a lawyer for the parties who brought the suit and the legal director at Just Futures Law, told CNN Business that the parties that brought the suit seek an injunction to prevent Clearview AI from being used in California.

It also wants the deletion of face scans of Californians that the company has collected.

But Clearview AI insisted it was doing nothing wrong.

“Clearview AI complies with all applicable law and its conduct is fully protected by the First Amendment,” Floyd Abrams, a lawyer for the company, said in a statement to CNN Business on Tuesday.

Ongoing challenges

It should be noted that ACLU lawsuit filed in early 2020 is still ongoing.

Clearview had filed a motion to dismiss the suit in December, which the ACLU replied to in a legal brief, CNN reported.

With no federal action of the use of facial recognition, a number of US states and indeed cities have taken their own action against the technology.

This includes San Francisco, Boston, and Portland, Oregon banning the technology, while US states such as Illinois, California, and Washington, have related legislation that limits its use.

More recently, Clearview AI has also been declared illegal in Canada, with the firm being warned to remove Canadian faces from its database.

A large number of tech firms have also banned use of the technology, including Amazon last June when it said it was implementing a one-year moratorium on police use of its facial recognition software.

That came after IBM had called for police reform in the United States, and cancelled all its facial recognition programs in light of ongoing concern at the use of the technology.

Microsoft has previously refused to install facial recognition technology for a US police force, due to concerns about artificial intelligence (AI) bias.

In the UK, the Met uses a facial recognition system from Japanese firm NEC.

But in February 2020, the UK’s most senior police officer, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, said criticism of the tech was “highly inaccurate or highly ill informed.”

She also said facial recognition was less concerning to many than a knife in the chest.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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