Surveillance de masse

Biometrics: Europe asks Clearview AI to delete its data

The UK is the fourth country to require Clearview AI, the controversial facial recognition company, to completely erase its citizens’ data… but there’s reason to be skeptical about the effectiveness of this approach.

Corresponding The edge, The UK has become the fourth country to ask Clearview AI, the controversial facial recognition company, to erase all of its data on UK nationals. Downing Street follows in the footsteps of the French, Italian and Australian governments, which have already taken similar measures.

As a reminder, Clearview claims to hold more than 20 billion images, sourced from all corners of the internet. In particular, without the express consent of the parties concerned, the law firm has unreservedly resorted to public platforms such as Facebook or Instagram to feed its database.

The goal: to resell them via a biometric system that allows facial recognition on a very large scale. A practice that has provoked many reactions, both from data protection organizations and from legislators. In January 2020 the New York Times created a chilling and eloquent portrait of the company. His title: “The company that could complete privacy as we know it“, just that. A daring choice of words that says a lot about the ethical uneasiness involved and has already brought her several lawsuits.

In fact, many of them felt that the company had no legitimate reason to conduct such a harvest without any approach to transparency. The United States was among the first to come to power through the American Civil Liberties Union. The institution eventually got Clearview AI to stop selling its data to American companies… with the exception of federal authorities, under the pretense of national security. We are determined not to lose the North alongside the FBI and NSA.

Europe is taking action against this wild collection

At times, the British were also among the law firm’s clients. Corresponding The edge, Several institutions such as the police, the National Crime Agency or even the Department of Defense have used their database. According to the Office of the Information Commissioner, this cooperation has now been discontinued; but all data collected about overseas residents would be still available for customers in other countries.

An unbearable situation for the authorities. “This company does not only allow the identification of people‘ explains John Edwards, Government Information Officer. “It monitors their behavior and offers the result as a commercial service. This is unacceptable‘ he hammers.

The country therefore decided to fine the company and asked it to completely purge its database of all items related to Queen Elizabeth’s issues. The level of irony: acc wired, even Facebook would have asked Clearview to stop plundering its page…


France had already taken a similar decision in December 2021. The CNIL then formally requested Clearview AI to cease its operations in France. “People whose photos or videos are accessible on many websites and networks cannot reasonably expect that the images processed by the company will be used to feed facial recognition systems‘ the institution estimated.

A sword in the water?

It remains to be seen what the scope of this new request will be. Because as such, Clearview AI remains an exclusively American company. She hasn’t built the slightest base in Europe. The company’s workforce therefore defends itself by saying that technically it is in no way subject to the legislation of the countries concerned.

From today’s perspective, it is therefore unlikely that Clearview AI will comply with the orders of European governments. This data represents a significant financial stroke of luck, and the authorities do not appear to have the slightest leverage or leverage. Especially as Cleaview AI continues to work with US federal agencies… who will certainly be pleased to have access to a database of European viewers.

So there’s a good chance this is a new stab in the water; At the moment there is nothing stopping Clearview AI from being deaf. A situation that revives the famous ethical debate about these databases, with many questions about individual freedoms and digital sovereignty in the background.

It will therefore be interesting to follow the case. Will the various legislators find a target to force Clearview AI to comply with European regulations? Whether they succeed or not, it seems increasingly urgent to create a clear, unified and global legal framework to anticipate some of the dire scenarios that seem to become clearer by the day.

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