Markey presses facial recognition company over Middle Eastern marketing, potential child privacy violations

Markey presses facial recognition company over Middle Eastern marketing, potential child privacy violations
© Greg Nash

Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySenate Dems introduce bill to keep pilots and bus and train operators safe Markey, Harris, Booker to introduce resolution calling for elimination of qualified immunity GOP Massachusetts governor: Trump's compassion 'nowhere to be found' MORE (D-Mass.) sent a letter Tuesday to Clearview AI, pressing the controversial facial recognition company over its marketing in the Middle East and potential violations of child privacy laws.

This is the second time the Massachusetts lawmaker has inquired about Clearview, which has compiled billions of photos by scraping social media platforms and has contracts with several law enforcement agencies.

The company last week admitted that its entire client list was hacked, and subsequent reporting from BuzzFeed News revealed that well over 2,000 public and private organizations have used the facial recognition technology, which matches individuals' faces with ones in the expansive database.

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Reporting from earlier this month also found Clearview marketing to countries including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“Recent reports about Clearview potentially selling its technology to authoritarian regimes raise a number of concerns because you would risk enabling foreign governments to conduct mass surveillance and suppress their citizens," Markey wrote in Tuesday's letter to Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That.

The letter also raised concerns that Clearview may be collecting and processing images of children, which could violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a law that sets restrictions on data collection from minors.

"I have grave doubts about Clearview's ability to protect this sensitive data in light of recent reports that hackers successfully stole Clearview's entire client list," Markey wrote.

Markey pressed Clearview for answers on a series of questions including whether the company plans to sell its software outside of the U.S., whether identifiable images were stolen in the hack and whether it's planning to comply with the cease-and-desist orders its received from many social media platforms. The senator asked for responses by March 24.

Markey had previously sent a letter to Clearview in January asking about what organizations the company has worked with.

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In Tuesday's follow-up, he called the responses to that inquiry "unacceptable."

The chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology also sent a letter to Ton-That Tuesday expressing concern about the recent breach.

“We are deeply concerned about recent reports that indicated Clearview AI was breached and has ‘lost its entire client list to hackers,’” chairman Rep. Eddie Bernice JohnsonEddie Bernice JohnsonHouse members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes Minority lawmakers gain unprecedented clout amid pandemic Americans must have confidence federal agencies are using the best available science to confront coronavirus MORE (D-Texas) and ranking member Frank LucasFrank Dean LucasHillicon Valley: Lawmakers demand answers on Chinese COVID hacks | Biden re-ups criticism of Amazon | House Dem bill seeks to limit microtargeting Lawmakers ask for briefings on Chinese targeting of coronavirus research Trump's meatpacking plant order fails to prevent shortages MORE (R-Okla.) wrote in their letter.

“Clearview AI’s work appears subject to very little government oversight, despite the serious privacy questions raised by the intended use of Clearview AI’s technology. These concerns are compounded immensely by the knowledge that the firm has now been the subject of a successful hacking operation.”

The Hill has reached out to Clearview for comment.

Updated at 4:04 p.m.