Clearview clears the final hurdle in its quest to undermine democracy

The ACLU and Clearview AI, a controversial facial recognition company, reached a legal settlement earlier this week that’s been hailed as a huge win by both parties.

The big story here is that Clearview AI can no longer sell its databases to third party companies — but that’s not exactly news.

Up front: The suit was filed in 2020 by the ACLU. It alleged that Clearview AI had failed to comply with the Illinois biometric information privacy act (BIPA).

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As Tech Crunch’s Taylor Hatmaker recently wrote:

According to the terms of the Clearview settlement, which is still in the process of being finalized by the court, the company will be nationally banned from selling or giving away access to its facial recognition database to private companies and individuals.

This, of course, doesn’t stop Clearview from working with government entities outside of Illinois.

Many members of the media see this as a win for privacy. But, as Clearview AI CEO Hoan Ton-That told CNN in a statement, it makes little difference to the company:

Clearview AI’s posture regarding sales to private entities remains unchanged. We would only sell to private entities in a manner that complies with BIPA. Our database is only provided to government agencies for the purpose of solving crimes.

Background: Clearview AI’s legal team has been fighting off lawsuits like this since day one. And its CEO is certainly aware of the ever-dwindling stomach for public-facing facial recognition systems.

That’s why it had already stopped third-party sales of its databases prior to the settlement. And, per the terms of that ruling, it will almost certainly continue to sell its algorithms to third-party companies.

But Clearview AI was never set up to be the world’s best company at selling facial recognition systems. Were its particular brand of easy-use-surveillance a viable commercial industry, we can imagine Amazon’s Ring division would have already bullied its way to the top of the space. 

Arguably, the only out the company’s ever had is snagging lucrative government contracts.

And that’s something it’s also been doing since day one. It currently works with numerous law enforcement agencies across the world, CBP, ICE, the Pentagon, and more.

Lukewarm take: This is more of the same, and trending poorly for privacy.

The gist of the problem is that Clearview AI provides a service the US government wants. And, color me shocked, but it turns out the US doesn’t regulate AI.

It’s easy for the government to play along with Clearview AI’s pseudo-altruistic promises to keep its technology out of civilian hands. The suppression of civil rights and privacy requires an asymmetrical technological order.

The panacea for this is the recognition that privacy is just as important when you think you have nothing to hide as it is when a regime change results in the criminalization of freedoms previously taken for granted.

Arguably, the ACLU’s “big win,” has gone a long way towards making people feel like Clearview AI is less dangerous than it actually is.

And if you think you’ve got nothing to hide, you should read this.

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