Clearview AI, the famous facial recognition company that has in partnership with more than 2,400 law enforcement agencies across the United States, is about to receive a patent for what he describes as the first of its kind, “a face search engine”.
Politico, which was the first to discover the patent originally filed in August 2020, determined that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office sent Clearview a Notice of Allowance last week. This means that Clearview essentially has the patent in the bag as long as it pays its administrative costs. And with more than 38 million dollars raised so far in funding according to Crunchbase, paying the bill shouldn’t be a problem.
In an interview with Politico, Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That claimed his company’s tool would represent the first of its kind to use “large-scale internet data.” This results in the first facial recognition service to retrieve billions of photos from social media and other publicly available databases, almost always without users’ consent. This vast database of faces includes approximately 10 billion images, according to Your-That.
Privacy advocates and researchers oppose the patent and fear it will standardize Clearview’s data collection practices before lawmakers have a chance to pass meaningful data privacy regulations that limit technology.
“The part they seek to protect is exactly the part that causes the most problems,” Matt Mahmoudi, a researcher at Amnesty International, told Politico. “They are patenting the very part that violates international human rights law.”
Although a handle of cities and some states have passed legislation restricting the use of facial recognition, the United States still does not have a comprehensive federal privacy standard. Nevertheless, patents around facial recognition are generally multiplying. Between 2015 and 2019, the USPTO reportedly granted approximately 5,000 patentss related to technology, notes Politico.
In a Tweet, author and former Facebook investor Roger McNamee describe Clearview’s efforts are “a perfect example of our flawed patent/copyright system.”
And while Clearview recently Recount CNET has no plans to create a consumer version of its products, the patent filing includes details that appear to go beyond the scope of traditional law enforcement, such as business or dating .
The patent comes as Clearview continues to solidify itself as one of the hottest new tools for US law enforcement despite little significant federal data privacy oversight. A series of BuzzFeed surveys Surveys earlier show how widespread Clearview has become, noting that people in 1,803 public agencies had used the technology in the past year. The FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and ICE all once called themselves Clearview clients.
At the same time, public opposition against Clearview (and facial recognition in general) has grown. Just last week, the UK Information Commissioner’s Office tentatively a fine the company £17 million for allegedly breaching UK data protection laws. This decision came weeks after Australia (Ton-That’s birthplace) order Clearview to stop scraping data in the country after determining it violated the country’s privacy protections.
Prior to this, the company was under pressure to withdraw from Canada last year following two federal investigations into his activities. Privacy groups in Austria, France, Greece, Italy and the UK have taken legal action against the company and filed complaints with their respective regulators. Private companies have also pushed back on Clearview. Google and YouTube, along along with LinkedIn, Twitter and Venmo, all sent cease and desist orders to Clearview in 2020 demanding that the company stop scraping images from its platforms without it. consent to participate companies or their users.