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Clearview AI fined £7.5m over improper use of UK data

Australian facial recognition firm collected 20 billion images from the internet without consent in order to build its database

The UK's Information Commissioner (ICO) has fined Clearview AI £7.5 million for using images of British people in its systems, which were collected from the web and social media. 

The controversial Australian firm supplies facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies around the world and its systems have caused concern as it uses data scraped from publicly available online sources.

A joint investigation between the UK's data regulator and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) found that Clearview had collected more than 20 billion images from the internet, mostly social media, to create its online database. However, it failed to inform people that their images were being collected or used for this purpose.

The ICO also found that Clearview had breached UK data protection laws by failing to have a lawful reason for collecting the information and for not having a process to stop the data from being "retained indefinitely".

The penalty also came with an enforcement notice ordering Clearview to stop obtaining and using the personal data of UK residents. The company no longer offers its services in the UK, though information for UK residents was still being used in systems sold in other countries, according to the ICO.

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"The company not only enables identification of those people but effectively monitors their behaviour and offers it as a commercial service," John Edwards, the Information Commissioner said. "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."

Clearview became notorious in 2019 when reports surfaced that it was ordered to cease and desist scraping data from Facebook and Twitter by the companies themselves. The firm is popular with law enforcement, particularly in the US, where its app is used to match uploaded images to its database. Matched images will provide details on the subject and links to where the image was from, such as a social media page.

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