UK threatens Clearview AI with nearly $23M fine over its facial recognition tech

Regulators say the company committed "alleged serious breaches" of the nation's data protection laws.
(Getty Images)

British regulators say they intend to fine Clearview AI, a facial recognition company that bills itself as the world’s largest, nearly $23 million for “alleged serious breaches” of the nation’s data protection laws.

The fines stem from a joint investigation by the U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and its Australian counterpart. The ICO now awaits a response from Clearview AI before possibly levying the fine in mid-2022.

“I have significant concerns that personal data was processed in a way that nobody in the UK will have expected,” U.K. Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said on Monday. “Clearview AI Inc’s services are no longer being offered in the UK. However, the evidence we’ve gathered and analysed suggests Clearview AI Inc were and may be continuing to process significant volumes of UK people’s information without their knowledge.”

The increased scrutiny from U.K. regulators has something of a parallel in the U.S., where in Congress lawmakers are pushing for more federal oversight of facial recognition technology. But the U.S. situation differs because lawmakers are specifically worried about their own federal law enforcement agencies abusing the tech.


In the U.K., the ICO is perturbed that Clearview AI may have collected images of people in the U.K. without their knowledge by scraping social media platforms and other online sources. U.K. law enforcement agencies also used Clearview AI services but on a trial basis, and the company’s services are no longer available in that country.

Beyond concerns about collecting information without individuals’ knowledge, the ICO says that Clearview AI appears to have failed to comply with U.K. data protection laws in other ways, such as not having a process to keep data from being retained indefinitely and not meeting higher protection standards for biometric data.

Sweden and Canada are among the other nations whose regulators have scrutinized use of Clearview AI tech, with Canadian authorities earlier this year deeming its app illegal.

In a written statement, Clearview AI’s U.K. attorney Kelly Hagedorn said the company would consider an appeal.

“I am deeply disappointed that the UK Information Commissioner has misinterpreted my technology and intentions,” said CEO Hoan Ton-That. “My company and I have acted in the best interests of the UK and their people by assisting law enforcement in solving heinous crimes against children, seniors, and other victims of unscrupulous acts.”

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