Facial recognition contractor Clearview AI withdraws subpoenas served on nonprofit

Clearview AI currently provides facial recognition services to HHS, DHS, DOI and DOJ.
(Getty Images)

A technology company that provides facial recognition technology to at least four government agencies has withdrawn subpoenas it served on a nonprofit.

Clearview AI this morning announced that it would not pursue the court orders, which were obtained against transparency lobby group Open the Government. Clearview was seeking to obtain details of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests relating to the use of facial recognition by law enforcement agencies from the nonprofit, as well as communications with journalists.

In a statement, Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That said: “On further reflection about the scope of the subpoenas, and my strong view of freedom of the press, we have decided to withdraw the subpoenas served on Open the Government and its associates.”

Clearview AI had subpoenaed OTG and one of its employees to turn over all responses it received to Freedom of Information Requests, as well as First Amendment-protected communications the nonprofit had with media in relation to scraping images and personal information from social media sites and selling data to law enforcement agencies.


News that the company has scrapped its legal demands follow a report on the subpoenas Friday by Politico.

Clearview AI provides facial recognition that is supported by a database with more than 3 billion images scraped from Facebook, YouTube, Venmo and million other websites, according to the New York Times.

According to a recent Government Accountability Office report on the use of facial recognition technology by government agencies, services from Clearview AI are used by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Justice.

GAO’s report raised wider issues about the use of facial recognition technology across the federal government and noted that at least 10 U.S. government agencies are undertaking research and development into such systems. Out of 24 agencies surveyed, 19 reported using facial recognition technology, with the most common uses being for digital access and domestic law enforcement.

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