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US surveillance and facial recognition company Clearview AI prevails in a UK courtroom GDPR appeal

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According to legal documents, the United Kingdom’s commissioner lacks the authority and jurisdiction to penalize or levy fines against the “foreign” corporation for breaches of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Clearview AI, a U.S. company specializing in surveillance and facial recognition technology, recently secured a favorable verdict in a United Kingdom court after facing allegations of GDPR violations. Initially, the company faced a hefty fine of nearly $10 million for GDPR infractions in May 2022. However, this recent legal victory has the potential to nullify the imposed penalty unless the United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) opts to pursue further appeals.

As elucidated by a United Kingdom court tribunal presided over by Tribunal Judge Lynn Griffin, the inquiry into whether Clearview AI (referred to as “CV” throughout the documents) transgressed GDPR is deemed inconsequential due to the jurisdictional constraints pertaining to the application of GDPR on foreign entities.

The court documents, released on October 17, clarify the situation:

“Whether CV has indeed infringed the provisions of GDPR or UK GDPR, as alleged or otherwise, was not the focal point of our deliberations. This matter would be subject to thorough examination in the event of the case proceeding.”

Furthermore, the documents expound that, notwithstanding the vast repository of images within Clearview AI’s facial recognition and AI surveillance system – including those, as experts claim, sourced from publicly available internet resources in the UK – the United Kingdom’s ICO lacks the jurisdiction to extend GDPR safeguards to its citizens in this particular instance.

The court document emphasizes that Clearview AI is a foreign entity providing services to international clients, utilizing foreign IP addresses, and supporting functions of public interest, national security, and law enforcement – functions directed at activities within their own jurisdiction, yet beyond the UK’s purview.

In essence, this approval of the appeal seems to establish a legal precedent, narrowing the United Kingdom’s court system’s enforcement of GDPR to companies firmly entrenched within the country’s domain.

Conversely, Clearview AI has encountered numerous lawsuits and fines in Europe under the European Union’s GDPR, with penalties imposed in France, Italy, and Greece. Notably, the local police authority in Sweden was fined over $300,000 for the unauthorized use of Clearview AI products in 2021.

However, it’s worth noting that Clearview AI has, on several occasions, resisted compliance with court directives. For instance, despite a $20 million fine for GDPR violations in France in October 2022, the company refused to remit payment and was found in breach of the order as of May 2023.

Currently, Clearview AI occupies a distinctive position within the U.S. tech landscape. Despite persistent allegations that its software and services infringe upon civil liberties and privacy protections guaranteed to all U.S. citizens, the company’s close affiliations with law enforcement have, according to some experts, shielded it from the legal constraints imposed by U.S. laws governing unwarranted surveillance and the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Consequently, most individuals find it nearly impossible to have their data expunged from Clearview AI’s extensive datasets and systems.

As per Clearview AI’s Privacy Policy page, “currently, only residents of specific states are entitled to submit requests for access, opt-out, or deletion.” These states encompass California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, and Virginia. Individuals residing outside of these areas currently lack a formal recourse for having their images, likenesses, and personal data removed from the company’s database.

Moreover, the same document explicitly states that Clearview AI “may have disseminated this category of personal information – comprising facial vectors and photographs – to law enforcement agencies, government entities, authorized contractors of law enforcement or government agencies, as well as security and national security professionals.” For those in the aforementioned U.S. states seeking to opt-out, the process entails submitting a “headshot” photograph, verifying their government-issued identification, and supplying any additional information as stipulated by the company to initiate the removal request.

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