Clearview AI investigated over 'social media data scraping'

The notorious facial recognition firm provides image data to law enforcement agencies

The UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and its Australian counterpart are launching a joint investigation into the data practices of facial recognition firm Clearview AI.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) and the ICO has said the investigation will focus on the company's use of "scraped" data and biometrics.

Clearview AI is a US-based facial recognition company used by law enforcement agencies. Its clientele reportedly includes the FBI and Homeland security, as well as some 6,000 other police organisation around the world. Its facial recognition app lets users upload the photo of a suspect and it matches it to images collected from the internet. The system then links to where the photo appeared.

The firm first came to the attention of privacy campaigners after a report in The Seattle Times revealed it had used images from social media sites in its facial recognition systems without the consent of users. Following the article, Twitter and Facebook both released cease and desist notices to Clearview AI and a number of privacy groups threatened legal action.

The ICO told IT Pro that following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding earlier this year, it has agreed to work alongside the Australian data regulator in a single investigation, given that Clearview AI's data processing activities occurred across both jurisdictions.

The regulator added that its own investigation highlighted the importance of "enforcement cooperation" when protecting the personal information of Australian and UK citizens in a "globalised data environment". It has refused to comment further while investigations are ongoing.

It has been reported that Clearview AI has a database of more than three billion images, which the company claims to have "scraped" from various social media platforms.

While a number of tech firms, including IBM and Amazon, announced plans to ditch or halt facial recognition systems in light of the Black Lives Matter protests, Clearview AI has only pledged to stop private firms from using them. Its services are still available to law enforcement agencies at the time of writing.

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