Clearview AI successfully appeals £7.5m UK data-scraping fine

19 Oct 2023

Image: ©

The UK verdict claimed that Clearview AI’s activity in the UK was ‘beyond the material scope’ of GDPR.

Facial recognition company Clearview AI has managed to appeal a fine and enforcement order it received in the UK last year.

The £7.5m fine was issued last year by the country’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The regulator issued the fine to Clearview AI for collecting images of people in the UK “and elsewhere” from the internet and social media.

The ICO’s original fine also came with an enforcement notice that ordered Clearview AI to stop collecting publicly available images of UK residents and to delete any existing UK images from its systems.

In a new ruling at the First-tier Tribunal in the UK, judge Lynn Griffin ruled that the ICO did not have the jurisdiction to issue its enforcement notice and monetary penalty.

Clearview AI has been building a massive database of people’s faces for years, which it uses to create a facial recognition network. Clearview AI primarily advertises its services for supporting law enforcement activity, but it also claims it can help facial identification in everyday transactions.

The ICO had called Clearview AI’s practices “unacceptable” and claimed the company breached data laws by not having a lawful reason for collecting people’s data and not meeting GDPR standards for biometric data.

The new ruling claims that, although the processing undertaken by Clearview AI was related to the monitoring of data subjects’ behaviour in the UK, it was “beyond the material scope of the GDPR”.

Controversy for Clearview

Clearview AI drew public attention in February 2022, when it was reported that the company aimed to have 100bn facial photos in its database within a year. This would be enough to identify “almost everyone in the world”, according to company documents obtained by The Washington Post.

But the company has faced scrutiny for years, even before the revelation of those documents. In 2020, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illnois filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging it violated the privacy rights of citizens. This followed a New York Times investigation that revealed details of the company’s tracking and surveillance tools.

That lawsuit reached a settlement last year, when Clearview AI agreed to a new set of restrictions, including a permanent ban in the US on making its faceprint database available to most businesses and other private entities.

Clearview AI has also faced regulatory pressure from countries such as Australia and Canada, but these hurdles don’t appear to have hindered the growth of the company’s database.

When the ICO issued its fine against Clearview AI in May 2022, the company claimed to have a database of more than 20bn images. In March of this year, the company’s founder Hoan Ton-That  told the BBC that its database contained more than 30bn images.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic