Clearview AI forced to delete facial recognition data by French regulator

France’s watchdog agency (CNIL) ordered Facial recognition company Clearview AI to delete the personal data of its citizens, the latest in a global rebuke by privacy regulators around the world since BuzzFeed News revealed its use by law enforcement agencies around the world.

CNIL said in a statement that the company had violated the European Union’s strict General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

“The collection and use of biometric data are carried out without a legal basis,” the watchdog said on Thursday.

As such, Clearview was also cited for failing to “adequately and effectively address the rights of individuals, including requests for access to their data.”

CNIL added they had launched an investigation after first receiving complaints about Clearview’s software in May 2020.

On his side, CEO Hoan Ton-That insisted the company’s data was collected legally. “We only collect public data from the open internet and comply with all standards of privacy and law,” Ton-That wrote. “My intentions and those of my company have always been to help communities and their people to live better safer lives,” he noted.

Also, the order comes after similar decisions from the UK and Australia in recent weeks. At the same time, Clearview has built its business by scraping people’s photos from the web and social media and indexing them in a vast facial recognition database.

This shutdown follows a series of BuzzFeed News investigations revealing widespread and sometimes unsanctioned use of the company’s facial recognition software worldwide. For example, the news outlet reported in August that France’s Ministry of the Interior is listed as having run more than 400 searches on Clearview, according to the facial recognition company’s internal data.

According to Clearview data, an important point worth mentioning is that the Crimes Against Children Unit of Interpol, an international police force based in Lyon, France, had tallied more than 300 searches.

“A small number of officers have used a 30-day free trial account to test the Clearview software,” the unit said at the time. “There is no formal relationship between INTERPOL and Clearview, and this software is not used by INTERPOL in its daily work.”