Information Commissioner seeks permission to appeal Clearview AI ruling

The Information Commissioner is seeking permission to appeal the decision of a tribunal to overturn a data privacy fine handed out to facial recognition firm Clearview AI.

Nov 20, 2023
By Paul Jacques
John Edwards

John Edwards said he believes the tribunal incorrectly interpreted the law when finding Clearview’s processing fell outside the reach of UK data protection law on the basis that it provided its services to foreign law enforcement agencies.

The First Tier Tribunal (Information Rights) overturned a £7.5 million fine handed out to Clearview by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) last year.

The Commissioner’s view is that Clearview itself was not processing for foreign law enforcement purposes and should not be shielded from the scope of UK law on that basis.

In its judgment the tribunal supported the ICO’s view that US-based Clearview was processing personal information, which related to the monitoring of individual’s behaviour through the collection of billions of facial images, which were then offered for access and analysis using artificial intelligence (AI), to foreign subscribers.

Mr Edwards welcomed this “important clarification” regarding UK data protection legislation as it provides certainty for businesses who are carrying out or planning to carry out similar activities.

The ruling makes clear that even if a company is not established in the UK, it is subject to UK data protection law that is related to the monitoring of people living in the UK.

As such, where Clearview provides its services commercially, it will be subject to the ICO’s jurisdiction.

Mr Edwards said: “I fully respect the role of the tribunal to provide scrutiny of my decisions – but as the defender of the public’s privacy, I need to challenge this judgment to clarify whether commercial enterprises profiting from processing digital images of UK people, are entitled to claim they are engaged in ‘law enforcement’.

“It is my job to protect the data rights of the people of the UK and it is my view that there are too many who are being affected by the sheer scale and intrusiveness of Clearview’s mass scraping of personal information.

“This is an important issue within the AI sphere and whilst my office supports businesses that innovate with AI solutions, we will always take the appropriate action to protect UK people when we believe their privacy rights are not being respected.”

The ICO said it now awaits the tribunal’s decision.

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