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Activists sue facial recognition company over alleged privacy violations

Activists sue facial recognition company over alleged privacy violations
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Progressive activist groups are suing the facial recognition company Clearview AI in California over allegations that it obtained photos for its database in violation of the state's laws. 

Mijente, NorCal Resist and local activists filed the lawsuit against Clearview on Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court. The suit seeks to stop the company from collecting data in the state and delete any facial scans or personal data of Californians already obtained in Clearview’s databases. 

Clearview’s controversial database has faced intense scrutiny for more than a year, after it was reported that the database had more than 3 billion photos collected from scraping social media. 

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The lawsuit states Clearview has “the most dangerous facial recognition database in the nation,” and accuses it of “illicitly collecting” the billions of photographs “of unsuspecting individuals.” 

The company also "scrapes images" of people uploaded without their knowledge or consent, including from photos where they may inadvertently appear in the background, the lawsuit alleges. 

Floyd Abrams, an attorney for Clearview, said in a statement the company “complies with all applicable law and its conduct is fully protected by the First Amendment.”

The attorneys representing the activists, though, said Clearview’s data collection is in violation of California’s constitution. 

“Privacy is enshrined in the California constitution, ensuring all Californians can lead their lives without the fear of surveillance and monitoring,” Sejal Zota, a lead attorney in the case, said in a statement. “Clearview AI upends this dynamic, making it impossible to walk down the street without fear your likeness can be captured, stored indefinitely by the company, and used against you any time in the future. There can be no meaningful privacy in a society with Clearview AI.”

Moreover, the lawsuit notes reports that agencies across the country were using Clearview’s database.

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The lawsuit alleges the use of the data poses surveillance risks, especially for minority communities because facial recognition algorithms “have repeatedly been shown to perform poorly when examining the faces of people of color.”

“Thousands of local police officers and federal agents, including ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents, can pull up Clearview on their phones, take your photo, and know everything about you — whether you’re at a protest, on the subway, or on the side of the road. This is going to be used to surveil us, arrest us, and in some cases deport us,” Jacinta Gonzalez, a senior campaign organizer at Mijente, said in a statement. 

The lawsuit is far from the first pushback Clearview has faced. 

Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyBiden risks break with progressives on infrastructure Ron Johnson booed at Juneteenth celebration in Wisconsin Black lawmakers warn against complacency after Juneteenth victory MORE (D-Mass.) in June pressed the tech company on the use of its product to monitor protests amid the nationwide demonstrations after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

Other countries have taken action against Clearview. Canada moved to ban the company in January, and the European Union says the Clearview violates its privacy laws.