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ICO seeks permission to appeal against Clearview AI tribunal ruling

The UK’s data protection watchdog is seeking permission to appeal against the decision of a tribunal to overturn a data privacy fine handed out to facial recognition firm Clearview AI.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said it believes the tribunal incorrectly interpreted the law when overturning a £7.5 million fine handed out to Clearview by the ICO last year.

At the time, the ICO said Clearview had collected billions of images of people’s faces and data – without informing people or gaining their consent – from publicly available information on the internet, including social media platforms, for use in facial recognition services by law enforcement agencies outside of the UK.

But last month, a tribunal overturned the ICO’s decision after a Clearview appeal ruling that the ICO did not have the jurisdiction to issue its fine and enforcement notice because Clearview’s system was only used by law enforcement agencies based outside the UK.

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Now the ICO says it wishes to seek permission to appeal on the grounds that it believes that Clearview itself was not processing data for foreign law enforcement purposes and should not be shielded from the scope of UK law on that basis.

“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’,” Information Commissioner John Edwards said.

“It is my job to protect the data rights of the people of the United Kingdom 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 would now await the tribunal’s decision on the issue.

Jack Mulcaire, general counsel for Clearview AI said: “The tribunal decision vindicated the common-sense position that Clearview AI has taken all along: Clearview AI is not subject to the ICO’s jurisdiction. We oppose the ICO’s meritless appeal.”