Vermont attorney general sues controversial facial recognition company over privacy violations


Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan is suing Clearview AI, a controversial facial recognition technology company, over allegations that the firm illegally scraped photos of billions of people from the Internet without their consent, in violation of the law.

The lawsuit is only the latest in a string of legal rebukes and condemnations against Clearview AI, a mysterious facial recognition company that created a widely-used tool to identify people based on images of their faces — without their knowledge. 

“I am disturbed by this practice, particularly the practice of collecting and selling children’s facial recognition data,” Donovan said in a statement. “This practice is unscrupulous, unethical, and contrary to public policy. I will continue to fight for the privacy of Vermonters, particularly our most vulnerable.”

Donovan is alleging that Clearview AI violates Vermont’s Consumer Protection Act by collecting images of Vermont residents without their consent. He also claims that Clearview could be in violation of Vermont’s Data Broker Law. 

The complaint was filed in the Chittenden Superior Court.

Clearview AI has partnered with hundreds of law enforcement agencies and police departments across the country, touting its technology as a top-notch crime-fighting tool. But reports by Buzzfeed News have found that Clearview’s customer list is much broader, including government bodies like Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a former Trump staffer, Republican lawmakers and more.

Twitter, Facebook, Google, YouTube and Microsoft have all sent cease-and-desist letters to Clearview, demanding that the company stop using photos and images plucked from their platforms.

Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in particular have slammed the company over its ties to law enforcement and Saudi Arabia.

“Any technology with the ability to collect and analyze individuals’ biometric information has alarming potential to impinge on the public’s civil liberties and privacy,” Markey wrote in a recent letter to Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That.

There is currently no federal law dictating when, how, where or why facial recognition technology can be used.

Clearview has been hit by numerous lawsuits over the past several months as users sue the company for violating their privacy. 

“Clearview AI operates in strict accordance with the U.S. Constitution and American law,” the company said in a statement this week. “We would welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively with the State of Vermont — outside the adversarial environment of a courtroom — to further refine our proven, crime-solving technology for the benefit of all.” 

“However, we are ready to defend our, and the public’s, Constitutional right to access freely available public information,” the statement adds.

Updated 6:36 P.M.

Tags Ed Markey Ron Wyden

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