Vermont Sues Data Collection Agency For Violating State Consumer Protection And Privacy Laws | WAMC

Vermont Sues Data Collection Agency For Violating State Consumer Protection And Privacy Laws

Mar 10, 2020

The Vermont Attorney General’s office filed suit Tuesday in Chittenden Superior Court against a New York-based data collection company claiming it has illegally obtained photographs of Vermonters, violating their privacy rights as well as the state’s consumer protection and new data broker laws.

Standing in front of the court building in Burlington, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan announced that a lawsuit has been filed aimed at protecting Vermonters’ privacy rights.   “Clearview AI is a company that has collected billions of photos off the internet by screen scraping, applying artificial intelligence technology, biometric data to these photos and selling them, including photos of Vermonters and their children without Vermonters’ consent. We’ve sued today. We’ve also filed a motion for preliminary injunction asking the court to enjoin Clearview stop collecting Vermonters’ photos and stop selling it without Vermonters’ consent.”

Clearview AI sells the data it collects to law enforcement and private businesses. Assistant Attorney General Ryan Kriger (krEEger) says Clearview breaches websites indiscriminately to obtain the data in a process called screen scraping.  “They’ve collected it’s been reported millions of websites. We have strong belief that YouTube, Google, Venmo, LinkedIn, FaceBook were scraped partly because they’ve sent cease-and-desist letters to Clearview saying stop violating our terms of service.”

Public Protection Division Chief Christopher Curtis adds that the company gathered Vermonters’ data without knowledge or consent and in violation of the state’s Consumer Protection Act.  “This company has gone out and amassed a multi-billion photograph database without anyone’s consent.  Just imagine your home, your workplace, children that may be swept into this database.”

Kriger says Vermont’s lawsuit confronts myths about privacy in the digital age.  “Like the notion that privacy is dead, that our data is already out there everywhere and so what does it matter? That’s a myth. The folks who want to take all of our data want us to think that there’s no sense in trying to protect our privacy any more. Just because you put a photo on Facebook does not mean that anyone can come and download it and apply facial recognition to it and share it with anybody or collect all of your photos together from across the internet. So in our complaint we allege that that is basically what Clearview has done.”

An email from Clearview AI sent to WAMC in response to the lawsuit states in part: “Clearview AI operates in strict accordance with the U.S. Constitution and American law. We would welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively with the State of Vermont — outside the adversarial environment of a courtroom — to further refine our proven, crime-solving technology for the benefit of all. However, we are ready to defend our, and the public’s, Constitutional right to access freely available public information.”

Complaint and motion for preliminary injunction:
https://ago.vermont.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/PI-Motion-State-v-Clearview.pdf

Cease and Desist letter sent to Clearview AI by Vermont Attorney General’s office:
https://ago.vermont.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/2020-03-05-Clearview-Letter-ID-227006.pdf

Clearview AI’s full statement as emailed to WAMC:

"Vermont Statement

Clearview AI is one of the most innovative, effective and accurate law-enforcement tools on the market. Not only does it protect victims by helping law enforcement apprehend child rapists, murderers, and thieves, its accuracy protects the innocent from being falsely accused — all by simply using public images available to everyone on the public Internet. If an image is marked private, it remains private. Clearview AI will not index it.

Clearview AI operates in a manner similar to search engines like Google and Bing. Clearview AI, however, collects far less data than Google and Bing, because Clearview AI only collects public images and their web address. That’s all. Google, Bing and Facebook collect far more data, including names, addresses, financial and health information and shopping habits.

Clearview AI operates in strict accordance with the U.S. Constitution and American law. We would welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively with the State of Vermont — outside the adversarial environment of a courtroom — to further refine our proven, crime-solving technology for the benefit of all. However, we are ready to defend our, and the public’s, Constitutional right to access freely available public information.

Tor Ekeland
Tor Ekeland Law, PLLC"