The ACLU and Clearview AI, a controversial facial recognition company, reached a legal settlement earlier this week that was labeled a huge victory by both sides.
The big story here is that Clearview AI can no longer sell its databases to outside companies – but that’s not exactly news.
In front: The lawsuit was filed in 2020 by the ACLU. It alleged that Clearview AI had failed to comply with the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).
As Tech Crunch’s Taylor Hatmaker recently wrote:
Under the terms of the Clearview settlement, which has yet to be finalized by the court, the company will face a national ban from selling its facial recognition database or giving it access to private companies and individuals.
Of course, this doesn’t stop Clearview from working with government agencies outside of Illinois.
Many members of the media see this as a privacy victory. But, as Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That told CNN in a statement, it matters little to the company:
Clearview AI’s stance on sales to private entities remains unchanged. We would only sell to private entities in a manner consistent with BIPA. Our database is only provided to government agencies for the purpose of solving crime.
Background: Clearview AI’s legal team has been fighting these kinds of lawsuits since day one. And the CEO is certainly aware of the shrinking stomach for public facial recognition systems.
That’s why it had already stopped selling its databases prior to settlement. And, under the terms of that ruling, it will almost certainly continue to sell its algorithms to third companies.
But Clearview AI was never set up to be the world’s best company selling facial recognition systems. If the particular brand of easy-to-use surveillance were a viable commercial industry, we can imagine Amazon’s Ring division would have already teased its way to the top of the space.
Undoubtedly, all the company has ever had is winning lucrative government contracts.
And that’s something it’s been doing from day one. It currently works with numerous law enforcement agencies around the world, CBP, ICE, the Pentagon and more.
lukewarm take: This is more of the same and trending badly for privacy.
The crux of the problem is that Clearview AI provides a service that the US government wants. And, color me shocked, but it turns out the US doesn’t regulate AI.
It’s easy for governments to play along with Clearview AI’s pseudo-altruistic promises to keep its technology out of civilian hands. The suppression of civil rights and privacy requires an asymmetric technological order.
The panacea for this is the recognition that privacy is just as important when you think you have nothing to hide as when regime change leads to the criminalization of freedoms previously taken for granted.
No doubt the ACLU’s “great victory” has made people feel that Clearview AI is less dangerous than it actually is.
And if you think you have nothing to hide, you need to read this.