Information Commissioner John Edwards is not giving up on his quest to bring facial recognition giant Clearview AI to book, and is now seeking permission to appeal the recent judgment of the First Tier Tribunal which overturned a £7.5m fine handed to the company last year.
The fine, issued in May 2022, was substantially less than a £17m penalty proposed in the ICO’s notice of intent issued six months earlier, but was still the third biggest under UK GDPR at that time.
The three-member Tribunal found that while Clearview’s activities “could have an impact on UK residents even though it is not used by UK customers” that was not enough to bring these processing activities within the extraterritorial scope of the UK GDPR.
However, the ICO has jumped on one key section of the ruling, which made clear that even if a company is not established in the UK, it is subject to UK data protection law that is related to the monitoring of people living in the UK.
The Commissioner said he welcomed this “important clarification” regarding UK data protection legislation as it provides certainty for businesses who are carrying out or planning to carry out similar activities.
The Commissioner’s view is that Clearview itself was not processing for foreign law enforcement purposes and should not be shielded from the scope of UK law on that basis.
Edwards said: “I fully respect the role of the Tribunal to provide scrutiny of my decisions – but as the defender of the public’s privacy, I need to challenge this judgment to clarify whether commercial enterprises profiting from processing digital images of UK people, are entitled to claim they are engaged in ‘law enforcement’.
“It is my job to protect the data rights of the people of the UK and it is my view that there are too many who are being affected by the sheer scale and intrusiveness of Clearview’s mass scraping of personal information.
“This is an important issue within the AI sphere and whilst my office supports businesses that innovate with AI solutions, we will always take the appropriate action to protect UK people when we believe their privacy rights are not being respected.”
The ICO said it now awaits the Tribunal’s decision.
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