Australian privacy watchdog launches investigation into Clearview AI

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Australian privacy watchdog launches investigation into Clearview AI

Teams up with UK's information commissioner.

Australia’s privacy watchdog will probe the personal information handling practices of Clearview AI after several policing agencies admitted to having used the controversial facial recognition tool.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) on Thursday opened a joint investigation into the software with the United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

The tool, which is targeted at law enforcement agencies, is capable of matching images with billions of others from across the internet, including social media, to find persons of interest.

As part of the probe, OAIC and its overseas counterpart will look at Clearview AI’s “use of ‘scraped’ data and biometrics of individuals”, as well as how it manages personal information more broadly.

“The investigation highlights the importance of enforcement cooperation in protecting the personal information of Australian and UK citizens in a globalised data environment,” the OAIC said in a brief statement.

“In line with the OAIC’s privacy regulatory action policy, and the ICO’s communicating our regulatory and enforcement activity policy, no further comment will be made while the investigation is ongoing.”

The investigation follows preliminary enquiries by OAIC earlier this year after the tool was revealed to have been used by 2200 law enforcement agencies globally, including the Australian Federal Police and the Queensland, Victoria and South Australia police forces.

While the four policing agencies initially denied that the software had been used, the AFP and Victoria Police have since been forced to admit to having briefly trialled the tool from late 2019.

The AFP confirmed in answers to questions on notice that seven officers from the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation had used the tool to conduct searches after being sent trial invitations from Clearview AI.

Victoria Police, similarly, confirmed in a freedom of information request that several officers from the Joint Anti-Child Exploitation Team had run more than 10 searches using the tool after signing up.

Both agencies stressed that Clearview AI had not been adopted as an enterprise product and that no formal commercial agreements had been entered into.

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