Clearview AI Faces Class-Action Privacy Suit

Artificial intelligence company Clearview AI was sued by plaintiff David Mutnick in a class action complaint, which alleges Clearview violated his and similarly situated individuals’ privacy. The suit was filed in the Illinois Northern District Court on January 22. Mutnick is represented by Loevy & Loevy.

Clearview’s activities came to light four days prior to the suit when the New York Times published an article that revealed how the app works. “You take a picture of a person, upload it and get to see public photos of that person, along with links to where those photos appeared.”  The database is built from Facebook, YouTube, Venmo, and other websites, comprising a facial recognition database larger than any US government or Silicon Valley creation.  Federal and state law enforcement stated they have used the app in a variety of investigations. 

According to the lawsuit, Clearview “used the internet to covertly gather information on millions of American citizens, collecting approximately three billion pictures of them, without any reason to suspect any of them of having done anything wrong, ever. After obtaining these images, Clearview used artificial intelligence algorithms to scan the facial geometry of each individual depicted in the images, a technique that violates multiple privacy laws. Clearview now furnishes this data to law enforcement agencies in Illinois, for a fee.”

Clearview records being kept by law enforcement agencies, regardless of an individual’s criminal history.  “Clearview’s technology really offers…a massive surveillance state with files on almost every citizen, despite the presumption of innocence…[O]ne of Defendant Clearview’s financial backers has conceded that Clearview may be laying the groundwork for a ‘dystopian future.’ Anyone utilizing the technology could determine the identities of people as they walked down the street, attended a political rally or enjoyed time in public with their families.”

The complaint also noted that Clearview is the gatekeeper to this information and “it knows who the police are interested in and, often, where those people may be.” Mutnik argued this practice poses a threat to individuals’ freedoms. Clearview has not only provided database access to law enforcement but also to organizations including banks and retail loss-prevention specialists. Clearview allegedly acquired images by “scraping” them, a practice which automates the mass downloading of images and often violates the terms of service of a website. The complaint argued Clearview “sold, traded, leased and otherwise profited from those biometric identifiers and information.”

According to the complaint, Clearview has violated the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as the Contracts Clause of the United States Constitution. The plaintiffs also alleged violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), arguing Clearview did not provide the required written information nor obtain written releases to its subjects’ biometric information.

In sum, Mutnick argued that Clearview unlawfully gathered biometric data from citizens without their knowledge or consent and has profited from selling this information to third parties. He has sought class certification, injunctive and declaratory relief, an award for damages, as well as the expungement of the records.