British regulator fines U.S. facial recognition company $9.4M

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May 24 (UPI) — A British regulator has fined U.S. facial recognition company Clearview AI $9.4 million over collecting images of people in Britain and elsewhere without their consent.

The Information Commissioner’s Office said in a statement the practice violates its data protection laws, which require that the images of people be used in a way “that is fair and transparent.”

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The regulator has also ordered the company in an enforcement notice to delete data of British residents and banned future collection of such data.

The enforcement action follows a joint investigation with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner over the N.Y.-based facial recognition company’s scraping of images from the Internet to be used for facial recognition.

The investigation found that Clearview AI collected more than 20 billion images of people’s faces and data from publicly available information on the Internet and social media platforms like Facebook to use in an online database for facial recognition without their consent.

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“The company not only enables identification of these people, but effectively monitors their behavior and offers it as a commercial service,” Britain’s Information Commissioner John Edwards said in a statement. “That is unacceptable. That is why we have acted to protect people in the UK by both fining the company and issuing an enforcement notice.”

Regulators in three other countries, France, Italy and Australia, have similar orders and fines against Clearview AI.

In Britain, law enforcement has used the facial recognition technology in the past, according to a BuzzFeed News report.

The ICO noted in its statement that the company “no longer offers its services to UK organizations,” but since it has customers in other countries, “personal data of UK residents,” is still used.

Clearview AI has 28 days to appeal the ruling and six months to comply with it, The Verge reported, but it’s unclear how it will be enforced without services offered in the country.

The company’s CEO Hoan Ton-That said in response to a similar order and fine against it in Italy that it was not subject to the European Union law since it did not have business there.

Ton-That said in a statement to CNBC that Britain’s ICO has “misinterpreted” his technology and intentions.

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“I created the consequential facial recognition technology known the world over,” he said. “My company and I have acted in the best interests of the UK and their people by assisting law enforcement in solving heinous crimes against children, seniors, and other victims of unscrupulous acts.”

“We collect only public data from the open Internet and comply with all standards of privacy and law,” he added. “I am disheartened by the misinterpretation of Clearview AI’s technology to society. I would welcome the opportunity to engage in conversation with leaders and lawmakers so the true value of this technology which has proven so essential to law enforcement can continue to make communities safe.”

The facial recognition technology company agreed earlier this month to limit sales of its face database in the United States to government agencies as part of a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit over privacy issues filed in Illinois state court.