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Politics

European Privacy Groups Challenge Facial Scan Firm Clearview

LONDON — Privacy campaign groups filed legal complaints Thursday with European regulators against Clearview AI, alleging the facial recognition technology it provides to law enforcement agencies and businesses breaches stringent European Union privacy rules. 

Four privacy campaign groups complained to data protection authorities in France, Austria, Greece, Italy and the U.K. about Clearview's practices. They say the company stockpiled biometric data on more than 3 billion people without their knowledge or permission by "scraping" their images from websites. 

The complaints say Clearview didn't have any legal basis to collect and process this data under the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation, which covers facial image data. Britain adopted its own version of the EU privacy rules after it left the bloc. 

New York-based Clearview didn't respond immediately to a request for comment. 

News of Clearview's stockpile, first reported by The New York Times, raised concerns that the type of surveillance seen in China could happen in Western democracies. 

Privacy International said European data protection laws clearly outline the purposes for which companies can use personal data. 

"Extracting our unique facial features or even sharing them with the police and other companies goes far beyond what we could ever expect as online users," said Ioannis Kouvakas, London-based Privacy International's legal officer. 

Italy's Hermes Center for Transparency and Digital Human Rights, Greece's Homo Digitalis and Austria's noyb were also part of the challenge. 

Clearview is already facing global scrutiny. 

American civil liberties activists filed a similar legal challenge  in March that sought to bar Clearview from collecting biometric information in California and force it to delete data on Californians collected from sites including Facebook, Twitter, Google and Venmo.

Meanwhile, privacy watchdogs in Britain, Australia and Canada have opened investigations into the company. 

Clearview's CEO Hoan Ton-That has said the company's database is compiled with publicly available photos from the open web and can't be used for surveillance. 

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