European privacy groups challenge face-scanning company Clearview

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

Four groups have complained to data protection authorities in France, Austria, Greece, Italy and the United Kingdom about Clearview’s practices. They say the company has stored biometric data of more than 3 billion people without their knowledge or permission by “removing” their photos from websites.

Complaints say Clearview has no legal basis for collecting and processing this data under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which covers facial image data. Britain adopted its own version of privacy rules in the European Union after its withdrawal from the bloc.

“Clearview AI has not had any contracts with any EU customer and is not currently available to EU customers,” the CEO of Clearview AI said in a statement.

News of the Clearview stockpile, first reported by the New York Times, has raised concerns that the kind of surveillance seen in China could occur in Western democracies.

Privacy International said European data protection laws clearly define the purposes for which companies can use personal data.

“Extracting our unique facial features or even sharing them with police and other companies goes well beyond what we as online users can expect,” said Ioannis Kovacas, a legal officer at London-based Privacy International.

The Italian Hermes Center for Transparency and Digital Human Rights, the Greek Homo Digitalis and the Austrian noyb were part of the challenge. Complaints are based in part on requests individuals can make to find out what data the company holds about them. Ton said Clearview “voluntarily processed” the requests, which “contain only publicly available information, just like the thousands of others we’ve processed.”

Clearview is already facing global scrutiny.

US civil liberties activists filed a similar legal challenge in March that sought to block Clearview from collecting biometric information in California and force it to delete data about Californians collected from sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and Venmo.

Meanwhile, privacy watchdogs in Britain, Australia and Canada have opened investigations into the company.

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