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Suzanne Townley

News Editor, Solicitors Journal

ICO fines Clearview AI Inc over £7.5m for creation of unlawful facial recognition database

ICO fines Clearview AI Inc over £7.5m for creation of unlawful facial recognition database


More than 20 billion images were unlawfully collected to create a database for customers, including the police

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has fined facial recognition database company, Clearview AI Inc, £7,552,800 for the collection and use of more than 20 billion images of people’s faces and data from publicly available information on the internet and social media platforms all over the world to create an online database that could be used for facial recognition purposes. Individuals were not informed their images were being collected or used in this way.

The ICO also issued an enforcement notice which ordered the company to stop obtaining and using the personal data of UK residents publicly available on the internet, and to delete the data of UK residents from its systems.

Clearview AI Inc provides a service that allows its customers – including the police – to upload an image of a person to the company’s app, which is then checked for a match against all the images in the database.

The app then provides a list of images that have similar characteristics with the photo provided by the customer, with a link to the websites from where those images came from.

Given the high number of internet and social media users in the UK, Clearview AI Inc’s database is likely to include a substantial amount of data from UK residents, which has been gathered without their knowledge.

Clearview AI Inc no longer offers its services to UK organisations; however, the company has customers in other countries, so is still using personal data of UK residents.

The ICO enforcement action comes after a joint investigation with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), which focused on Clearview AI Inc’s use of people’s images, data scraping from the internet and the use of biometric data for facial recognition.

The joint investigation was conducted in accordance with the Australian Privacy Act and the UK Data Protection Act 2018. It was also conducted under the Global Privacy Assembly's Global Cross Border Enforcement Cooperation Arrangement and the memorandum of understanding between the ICO and the OAIC.

The ICO found Clearview AI Inc had breached UK data protection laws by:

·       failing to use the information of people in the UK in a way that is fair and transparent, given that individuals are not made aware or would not reasonably expect their personal data to be used in this way;

·       failing to have a lawful reason for collecting people’s information;

·       failing to have a process in place to stop the data being retained indefinitely;

·       failing to meet the higher data protection standards required for biometric data (classed as ‘special category data’ under the GDPR and UK GDPR);

·       asking for additional personal information, including photos, when asked by members of the public if they are on their database. This may have acted as a disincentive to individuals who wish to object to their data being collected and used.

UK Information Commissioner, John Edwards, said: “Clearview AI Inc has collected multiple images of people all over the world, including in the UK, from a variety of websites and social media platforms, creating a database with more than 20 billion images.

“The company not only enables identification of those people, but effectively monitors their behaviour and offers it as a commercial service. That is unacceptable. That is why we have acted to protect people in the UK by both fining the company and issuing an enforcement notice.

“People expect that their personal information will be respected, regardless of where in the world their data is being used. That is why global companies need international enforcement. Working with colleagues around the world helped us take this action and protect people from such intrusive activity.

“This international cooperation is essential to protect people’s privacy rights in 2022. That means working with regulators in other countries, as we did in this case with our Australian colleagues. And it means working with regulators in Europe, which is why I am meeting them in Brussels this week so we can collaborate to tackle global privacy harms."