Lawsuit: Over 3 Billion People's Photos Taken from Websites by AI Company

Several European privacy campaign groups filed legal complaints Thursday against Clearview AI alleging that the company's facial recognition technology stockpiled biometric data on more than 3 billion people without their knowledge or consent, the Associated Press reported.

The European Union has stringent privacy rules, which groups in France, Austria, Greece, Italy and the U.K. say were breached.

The complaints claim that Clearview had no legal basis to collect and process the data under the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation. Britain adopted a similar version of the EU privacy rules after leaving the bloc.

Clearview has already faced global scrutiny after an American lawsuit in March sought to bar Clearview from compiling biometric data in California and to force the company to delete the data.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Facial recognition technology in Russia
Several European privacy campaign groups filed legal complaints Thursday against Clearview AI alleging that the company's facial recognition technology stockpiled biometric data on more than 3 billion people without their knowledge or consent. Above, an X5 group representative demonstrates a facial recognition payment system at a self-checkout machine in a Perekrestok supermarket in Moscow on March 9, 2021. Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images

"Clearview AI has never had any contracts with any EU customer and is not currently available to EU customers," CEO Hoan Ton-That said in a statement.

News of Clearview's stockpile, first reported by The New York Times, raised concerns that the type of surveillance seen in China could happen in Western democracies.

Privacy International said European data protection laws clearly outline the purposes for which companies can use personal data.

"Extracting our unique facial features or even sharing them with the police and other companies goes far beyond what we could ever expect as online users," said Ioannis Kouvakas, London-based Privacy International's legal officer.

Italy's Hermes Center for Transparency and Digital Human Rights, Greece's Homo Digitalis and Austria's noyb were also part of the challenge. The complaints are partly based on requests individuals can file to see what data a company holds on them. Ton-That said Clearview "voluntarily processed" the requests, which "only contain publicly available information, just like thousands of others we have processed."

Meanwhile, privacy watchdogs in Britain, Australia and Canada have opened investigations into the company.

EU flag in London
Several European privacy campaign groups filed legal complaints Thursday against Clearview AI alleging that the company's facial recognition technology stockpiled biometric data on more than 3 billion people without their knowledge or consent. Above, the European Union flag flies outside Europe House in London. Alastair Grant, File/AP Photo