European privacy groups challenge face-scanning company Clearview

On Thursday, privacy campaign groups filed legal complaints with European regulators against Clearview AI, alleging that the facial recognition technology it provides to law enforcement and businesses violates the European Union’s strict privacy rules.

Four groups have complained to data protection authorities in France, Austria, Greece, Italy and the UK about Clearview’s actions. They say the company has amassed biometric data on more than 3 billion people without their knowledge or permission by “removing” their images from websites.

The complaints state that there was no legal basis for Clearview to collect and process this data under the EU General Data Protection Regulation, which covers facial image data. The UK has adopted its own version of EU privacy rules since leaving the bloc.

“Clearview AI has never contracted with any EU client and is not currently available to EU clients,” CEO Hoan Ton-Tat said in a statement.

News of Clearview’s holdings, first published by The New York Times, raised concerns that the surveillance seen in China could take place in Western democracies.

Privacy International stated that European data protection laws clearly define the purposes for which companies may use personal data.

“Extracting our unique facial features or even giving them to the police and other companies is far beyond what we could expect as online users,” said Ioannis Kouvakas, legal adviser at London-based Privacy International.

The Italian Center for Transparency and Digital Human Rights Hermes, the Greek Homo Digitalis and the Austrian noyb also took part in the event. Complaints are based in part on inquiries people can make to find out what data the company holds about them. Ton-Tet said Clearview “voluntarily processed” the requests, which “contain only public information, like the thousands of others we have processed.”

Clearview is already under global control.

US civil liberties activists filed a similar lawsuit in March seeking to stop Clearview from collecting biometric information in California and force it to remove data about Californians collected from sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google and Venmo.

Meanwhile, privacy watchdogs in the UK, Australia and Canada launched an investigation into the company.