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How Virginians can opt out of a facial recognition database

Cari McGee
/
Flickr

The facial recognition software Clearview AI scrapes the internet for photos of faces, and collects them in a database that governments and law enforcement can pay to access. Virginia is one of the few states where you can remove yourself from the matrix. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

Clearview AI has been used by police departments, federal agencies, and the U.S. military to identify people based on a single photo of their face – such as a still shot from a security camera. New York Times reporter Kashmir Hill first exposed the company in 2020, and was interviewed on Fresh Air in September about her book, "Your Face Belongs To Us."

Virginia is one of six states that provide some legal protection from companies like Clearview under the Virginia Consumer Data Privacy Act, which went into effect a year ago. After listening to Hill's interview, I went on their website to see what they had on me and how to erase it. The process is straightforward, but it did take a while to complete.

First, you go to Clearview's webpage dedicated to privacy requests. Scroll down to the "Virginia" heading, and there are buttons that take you to a request form to access your information, delete it, and opt out of them profiling you. First, I just asked to access my information, but you can select all these options at once. I uploaded a photo of my driver's license, and after waiting about three and a half weeks and leaving a voicemail on their hotline, I got the results.

The database had collected 14 images of me, going back to 2012, including several from previous jobs I've worked. Nothing too alarming, besides a few bad haircuts, but I'd still prefer not to be tabulated. So I requested they delete my information and remove me from all their services. I waited another five weeks, left another polite voicemail on their hotline, and finally received a confirmation email.

A message from their privacy team noted they would maintain a record of my request for at least two years to ensure I stay deleted from their system – so I may be revisiting this for New Year's Day in 2026.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.