Clearview Suffers Brief Bout Of Better Judgment, Drops Subpoena Demanding Activists' Communications With Journalists

from the keep-on-sucking dept

Just a few days ago, Clearview — the company that scrapes the web to build a facial recognition database it sells to law enforcement, government agencies around the world, and a number of private parties — decided to make itself even less likable.

It decided to subpoena transparency activists Open The Government, demanding copies of all FOIA requests it had made requesting info about Clearview. It also, more disturbingly, demanded copies of OTG’s communications with journalists, clearly indicating it felt First Amendment protections were something it should enjoy, but shouldn’t be extended to its critics.

It really wasn’t a step Clearview needed to take… for several reasons. First of all, Clearview’s reputation is pure dog shit at the moment. It’s unlikely to improve unless the company pulls the plug on its product and disbands. A move like this only earns it more (deserved) disdain and hatred. What it’s not going to do — even if successful — is deter future criticism of the business and its scraped-together facial recognition product.

Second, OTG was not a party to the lawsuit. Clearview has no right to demand these documents from a non-party, especially communications between it and journalists… journalists who are also not a party to the lawsuit Clearview is facing.

Third, if Clearview wanted copies of OTG’s FOIA requests, all it had to do is visit OTG’s MuckRock page and download all of its publicly accessible requests and responses.

There’s some good news, though. Shortly after having shot itself in the face, Clearview had second thoughts about the self-inflicted wound it had just sustained. Here’s Alexandra Levine for Politico.

Facial recognition company Clearview AI is dropping the subpoenas it served recently to some of the groups that first exposed its work with law enforcement — legal demands that sought the organizations’ correspondence with journalists and other records.

The best move would have been to never issue the subpoenas at all, especially given the First Amendment implications of attempting to pry loose communications between activists and journalists. This withdrawal is a distant second on the list of “Smart Things to Do.”

And here’s the rationale for the decision, straight from the mouth of Clearview’s founder:

Clearview CEO Hoan Ton-That told POLITICO that “on further reflection about the scope of the subpoenas, and my strong view of freedom of the press, we have decided to withdraw the subpoenas served on Open the Government and its associates.”

I imagine that “reflection” showed a badly maimed face mouthing the word “why” after taking the full impact of an unforced error. This should have been the first response to the suggestion of subpoenaing non-parties and demanding copies of their conversations with journalists. It should have been offered by Clearview’s legal team. And if those bright minds failed to comprehend the collateral damage this move would inflict on the First Amendment (not to mention the fact that Clearview would be sitting at ground zero when its own bomb went off), the genius who came up with the idea of treating millions of internet users as fodder for unproven facial recognition tech should have been able to see doing this was a terrible idea.

Then again, it may just be impossible for Clearview and its principals (note the spelling — “principles” are different and not possessed by Clearview) to get a firm grasp on the obvious if it can’t easily be scraped from content created by people with far more common sense than its founder and legal reps.

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Companies: clearview, open the government

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Comments on “Clearview Suffers Brief Bout Of Better Judgment, Drops Subpoena Demanding Activists' Communications With Journalists”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t understand why you think this was an error. They generated news about themselves, presumably guiding more sleazy customers to their sales office. I doubt legal action is very expensive if all you do is file it, wait for the free publicity payout, then drop it. They’re taking names for who goes up against the wall … you’re complaining. Who is shooting themselves in the face?

If you want to do something, get behind the fossil fuel lobby and keep the pipelines pumping. No man will be a slave when the oceans boil!

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