ACLU Settlement with Clearview Requires Facial Recognition Database Company to Make Major Reforms

On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced that it settled a suit with Clearview AI Inc. over the controversial facial recognition technology company’s chief product: a “gargantuan” database of biometric information connecting individuals’ unique face prints with their identity. The settlement, which the ACLU called a “big win,” includes provisions requiring Clearview to reel in its practices.

The ACLU filed suit against Clearview in May 2020, alleging that the company failed to comply with strictures of “a groundbreaking Illinois privacy law,” the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). The case is akin to sprawling multidistrict brought by individuals from Illinois and other states arguing that Clearview AI illegally harvested their information from publicly available internet sources and used it to create their database, which could be used by anyone willing to pay for any reason.

In fact, the database was allegedly available to both private companies, like Macy’s Inc., who the MDL plaintiffs claim used it to identify people in their stores, as well as law enforcement organizations. Recently, the Chicago, Ill. Federal court overseeing the MDL denied Macy’s bid to exit the suit not once, but twice.

This week’s settlement comes after Judge Pamela McLean Meyerson prevented Clearview from using the First Amendment as a shield for its activities last August. Now, it will be up to the Illinois state court to approve the parties’ settlement, the key provisions of which are as follows:

  • Clearview will be permanently prohibited from offering paid or free access to its facial recognition database, subject to narrow exceptions
  • No government entity in Illinois can use the database for five years
  • The company must maintain and publicize an opt-out request form, permitting Illinois residents to block themselves from appearing in search results
  • Clearview must end free trial accounts available to individual police officers without the knowledge or approval of their employers
  • In the next five years, Clearview must phase out photos taken or uploaded in Illinois

Plaintiffs, including the ACLU and other public interest organizations, were represented by the ACLU and Edelson PC, counsel that obtained a $650 million settlement in a BIPA case with Facebook.