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Lawmakers propose ban on police buying access to Clearview AI and other data brokers

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‘The Fourth Amendment is not for sale’

SENATE FINANCE Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has proposed banning police from buying access to user data from data brokers, including ones that “illegitimately obtained” their records — like, its sponsors say, the facial recognition service Clearview AI.

The Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act is sponsored by a bipartisan group including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and 18 other members of the Senate. The bill would make law enforcement agencies obtain a court order before accessing people’s personal information through third-party brokers — companies that aggregate and sell information like detailed user location data, surreptitiously gathered from smartphone apps or other sources.

Wyden announced the bill last year in an interview with The Verge, following reports that several government agencies had purchased citizens’ location data through a service named Venntel rather than obtaining it through a warrant. “There’s no reason information scavenged by data brokers should be treated differently than the same data held by your phone company or email provider,” Wyden said in a statement today. “This bill closes that legal loophole and ensures that the government can’t use its credit card to end-run the Fourth Amendment.”

The bill also takes aim at services that scrape and repurpose social media data for tracking purposes. It bars paying for what it calls “illegitimately obtained information,” including information that was gathered through deception and hacking or in a way that’s inconsistent with the privacy policy of the platform where people posted it. In a press release, the sponsors say that would prohibit buying facial recognition services from Clearview AI, which trains its models on photographs that users posted on social networks. Currently, “Clearview AI uses these illicitly obtained photos to power a facial recognition service it sells to government agencies, which they can search without a court order,” the release says.

Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced equivalent legislation in the House of Representatives.