Surveillance technology firm Clearview AI reached a settlement Monday with the Illinois American Civil Liberties Union and several other civil rights groups, agreeing to restrict access to its database of billions of images of people’s faces from around the globe, Courthouse News Service reports. Clearview claims on its website that it maintains “the largest known database of 10+ billion facial images sourced from public-only web sources, including news media, mugshot websites, public social media, and other open sources.” The company has ties to conservative and alt-right political movements. It was founded in 2017 by Richard Schwartz, a Republican political consultant who advised former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and Hoan Ton-That, an Australian entrepreneur who has been associated with alt-right figures. Clearview launched using over $8.6 million in equity investments, including $200,000 from billionaire right-wing activist Peter Thiel.
Clearview says it provides access to its database only to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. “Clearview AI’s posture regarding sales to private entities remains unchanged. We would only sell to private entities in a manner that complies with BIPA [Biometric Information Privacy Act]. Our database is only provided to government agencies for the purpose of solving crimes,” Ton-That said. A 2020 lawsuit against Clearview by the Illinois ACLU alleges the company has also sold database access to private businesses like the Chicago Cubs and wealthy individuals such as “actor turned venture capitalist Ashton Kutcher.” The suit claims this access, as well as Clearview’s extensive cooperation with police departments in Illinois since 2019, violates the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act of 2008. BIPA prevents private businesses from collecting, storing or using individuals’ biometric data, such as fingerprints or face images, without those individuals’ knowledge and written consent.