US firm's Australian image trawling breached privacy

·2-min read

Online images of Australians have been downloaded and offered to law enforcement agencies by a US firm which breached privacy laws.

Clearview AI is a Delaware-based company that uses facial recognition software including a web trawler to collect images and their metadata.

Police agencies paying Clearview for its services can upload images of suspects and victims which are matched to photos of individuals in the firm's database.

The Australian Federal Police and Victorian and South Australian police used a free trial of the Clearview software but ultimately did not opt to pay for the full product.

On October 2021, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner found the US firm breached Australian privacy laws by collecting sensitive data from individuals without their consent or failing to ensure the details collected were complete or accurate.

These findings were made despite Clearview having no office or headquarters in Australia with the OAIC finding the company had the necessary "Australian link" as it was trawling local servers for images.

The Commissioner ordered Clearview cease collecting data from Australians and destroy all images sourced from the internet and law enforcement agencies.

On Monday, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal upheld some of the OAIC's findings, dismissing a bid by Clearview to review the decision.

"So long as (Clearview) continues to acquire information, from servers in Australia using its web crawler ... it is carrying on business in Australia," wrote AAT senior member Damien O'Donovan.

The sensitive data collected by Clearview included biometric information and templates.

"There is no suggestion that the individuals whose images are collected and have that image converted into a vector consent to Clearview's collection," said Mr O'Donovan.

However, the AAT found the company's breaches of Australian privacy law were less widespread than that found by the OAIC.

To "move beyond the reach" of the Privacy Act, Clearview would have to stop sourcing images from Australian servers, Mr O'Donovan said.