Insights Information Commissioner’s Office issues provisional view to fine Clearview AI Inc over £17 million

The ICO has announced its provisional intent to impose a potential fine of just over £17 million on Clearview AI Inc, a company that describes itself as the “World’s Largest Facial Network”. In addition, the ICO has issued a provisional notice to stop further processing of the personal data of people in the UK and to delete that data following alleged serious breaches of the UK’s data protection laws.

The ICO’s announcement follows a joint investigation by the ICO and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) into Clearview AI Inc’s use of images, data scraped from the internet and the use of biometrics for facial recognition. Customers of Clearview AI Inc can also provide an image to the company to carry out biometric searches, including facial recognition searches, on their behalf to identify relevant facial image results against a database of over 10 billion images.

The ICO says that the images in Clearview AI Inc’s database are likely to include the data of a substantial number of people from the UK and may have been gathered without people’s knowledge from publicly available information online, including social media platforms. The ICO also understands that the service provided by Clearview AI Inc was used on a free trial basis by a number of UK law enforcement agencies, but that this trial was discontinued, and Clearview AI Inc’s services are no longer being offered in the UK.

The ICO’s preliminary view is that Clearview AI Inc appears to have failed to comply with UK data protection laws in various ways including by:

  • failing to process the information of people in the UK in a way they are likely to expect or that is fair;
  • failing to have a process in place to stop the data being retained indefinitely;
  • failing to have a lawful reason for collecting the information;
  • failing to meet the higher data protection standards required for biometric data (classed as “special category data” under the GDPR and UK GDPR);
  • failing to inform people in the UK about what is happening to their data; and
  • asking for additional personal information, including photos, which may have acted as a disincentive to individuals who wish to object to their data being processed.

Clearview AI Inc can now make representations in respect of the alleged breaches set out in the Commissioner’s Notice of Intent and Preliminary Enforcement Notice. Any representations will be considered by the Information Commissioner before any final decision is made. As a result, the proposed fine and preliminary enforcement notice may be subject to change or no further formal action will be taken. The ICO expects to make a final decision by mid-2022. To read the ICO’s press release in full, click here.