€ 20 Mio Fine for Clearview AI in Italy

10 March 2022
Clearview AI fine

€20 million fine for Clearview AI in Italy

The Italian data protection authority has fined the company Clearview AI €20 million. The company that sells facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies in the U.S. is no longer allowed to process biometric data on individuals in Italy and must delete all existing data.

Complaints in five countries. An alliance of organizations, including noyb, Privacy International (PI), Hermes Center, and Homo Digitalis, filed a series of complaints against Clearview AI Inc. in May 2021. The company claims to have "the largest known database of more than 10 billion facial images" and is aiming to reach 100 billion within the next year to make almost every person worldwide identifiable. The images for this come from social media accounts and other online sources. Complaints have been filed with data protection authorities in France, Austria, Italy, Greece and the United Kingdom.

Clear ban. The ruling is clear: the GDPR is applicable because Clearview AI uses its software to monitor the behavior of people in Italy, even though the company is based in the U.S. and does not offer its services in Italy or the EU. Collecting images for a biometric search engine is illegal. Not only would Clearview now have to delete all hitherto collected images of Italian citizens, but also the biometric information that is needed to search for a specific face.

Clearview AI is "heartbroken". Clearview's CEO is "heartbroken" by the decision, saying, "We only collect public data from the open internet and comply with all standards of privacy and law. (...) My intentions and those of my company have always been to help communities and their people to live better, safer lives."

The Italian authority also ordered Clearview to appoint a representative in the EU, to enable EU citizens to exercise their rights more easily and so regulators have a contact person in the EU.

"The Italian decision clearly prohibits a business model based on the mass collection of biometric data. This closes the European market to Clearview AI and similar companies. We even saw  a similar European company flee from the EU before this decision came out. The Polish company PimEyes suddenly relocated to the Seychelles following a complaint against them." Alan Dahi, privacy lawyer at noyb

Things are getting tight for Clearview. This decision follows the decision by the French authority on Clearview in December 2021: also here, the authority prohibited the collection and processing of data in France. We expect a similar decision in Austria soon.