General Intelligence

Clearview AI Is Taking Facial Recognition Privacy to the Supreme Court

International regulators have found Clearview AI’s technology breaches their privacy laws

Dave Gershgorn
Published in
2 min readFeb 26, 2021
Illustration. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

OneZero’s General Intelligence is a roundup of the most important artificial intelligence and facial recognition news of the week.

Clearview AI plans to challenge an Illinois law guarding against private facial recognition databases in the Supreme Court, according to Bloomberg Law.

The Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) has been a thorn in the side of tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Apple for years, as it prohibits the collection of data like facial recognition images, fingerprints, and iris scans without explicit consent. Workers at conglomerate Del Monte Foods even used the law to challenge a facial recognition time-clock system.

Clearview AI claims that previous interpretations of BIPA are “need of clarification from the Supreme Court, as lower courts have struggled to identify consistent rules or standards.”

Under the state law, Clearview AI would have to prove that its service did not cause a “concrete and particularized injury-in-fact” in order to operate in the state.

Meanwhile, international regulators have found Clearview AI’s technology to breach privacy laws. Canada declared the service illegal in the country, and asked Clearview to delete its citizens from the company’s servers. German regulators ordered Clearview to delete a citizen’s data from their services after an investigation found the data being held violated Europe’s GDPR. However, the ruling only required the deletion of that one person’s biometric profile and didn’t apply to Clearview operation in Europe as a whole.

Federal courts in the United States have pointed to Illinois’ BIPA to sound the alarm on facial recognition in the past. In a ruling against Facebook in 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said “the development of a face template using facial-recognition technology without consent (as alleged here) invades an individual’s private affairs and concrete interests.”

Clearview AI’s service is primarily structured around scraping the internet for images and creating these face templates without consent, and then selling access to search those templates. However, Clearview has also attempted to incorporate more traditional images.

This request from Clearview AI doesn’t mean that the Supreme Court will hear the case, however. While the nation’s highest court has ruled on some matters of data privacy, finding, for instance, that your phone’s location data cannot be obtained without a warrant, it hasn’t specifically ruled on facial recognition.

“This is a substantial, open question worthy of Supreme Court review,” lawyers for Clearview AI wrote in their request to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.



Dave Gershgorn

Senior Writer at OneZero covering surveillance, facial recognition, DIY tech, and artificial intelligence. Previously: Qz, PopSci, and NYTimes.