Thomson Reuters CLEAR Lawsuit
Thomson Reuters allegedly harvesting, selling massive database of personal information and photos
Gibbs Law Group was recently appointed class counsel in a certified class action filed in December 2020 challenging Thomson Reuters’s creation and sales of its CLEAR database on behalf of all Californians.
The lawsuit alleges that Thomson Reuters aggregates both public and non-public information about millions of people to create detailed cradle-to-grave dossiers on each person, including names, photographs, criminal history, relatives, associates, financial information, and employment information, and then sells that information through an online platform it calls CLEAR, without the knowledge or consent of the persons to whom the information concerns.
In August 2021, we got an important ruling from the Court concluding that our lawsuit could continue. The Court’s order explained that “the harm to Plaintiffs is tremendous: an all-encompassing invasion of Plaintiffs’ privacy, whereby virtually everything about them—including their contact information, partially redacted social security number, criminal history, family history, and even whether they got an abortion, to name just a few—is transmitted to strangers without their knowledge, let alone their consent.” In particular, the Court allowed our claim that Thomson Reuters engaged in unfair business practices, in violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law, to continue. In doing so, the Court rejected Thomson Reuters’s arguments that its conduct was protected under the Communications Decency Act or by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Following the Court’s Order, we proceeded through discovery which allows the parties to further investigate the factual evidence in support of their claims.
In August 2023, the Court certified a class of “all persons who, during the limitations period, both resided in the state of California and whose personal information Thomson Reuters made available through CLEAR without their consent.” The Court recognized the “tremendous harm that can result from a loss of control over one’s personal information,” and found that Thomson Reuters “directly contravened Californians’ right to keep private their most intimate and personal information by collecting their data without consent, aggregating, and offering it for sale to great profit.” The Court agreed with us that this case meets the requirements of a class action, and that the class could proceed to challenge Thomson Reuters’ “uniform practice” of selling access to class members’ information without consent.
Cat Brooks and Rasheed Shabazz, long-time Oakland residents and activists, were appointed to represent the class as named plaintiffs. Co-counsel Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll was also appointed class counsel.
Thomson Reuters asked the Ninth Circuit to allow it to appeal the class certification decision, and on November 17, 2023, the Ninth Circuit denied Thomson Reuters’s petition. The case is continuing in federal district court.
Thomson Reuters CLEAR lawsuit in the news
Washington Post: March 18, 2021
“When we look at the ways that these data brokers are remaking our country, the Fourth Amendment concerns are terrifying, but the way that they’re allowing companies to track millions without the most basic consent is deeply alarming as well.” —Albert Fox Cahn, Executive Director of Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP)
The Logic: August 17, 2023
Law 360: August 22, 2023
“Judge Chen’s opinion is an important brick in the wall protecting data privacy in the internet age. If consumers are going to demand that their personal information not be misappropriated or misused — particularly without their knowledge, consent and compensation — the courts must be willing to identify those discrete property and privacy rights.”
Thomson Reuters scrapes, sells personal and sensitive information through CLEAR database
Thomson Reuters is collecting tons of personal, confidential data on people without their knowledge, much less consent—and then selling it for a profit. The lawsuit alleges the CLEAR database includes:
- data from the web: information about people scraped from social media posts, blogs, and chatrooms;
- data from third party brokers and law enforcement: information that isn’t available to the public, including live cell phone records, credit agency data, DMV records (including address changes), location data from license plate detection, booking information, arrest records and intake photos; and
- data about a person’s family members (including minor children), neighbors and other associates.
The CLEAR database also prominently displays a “calculated risk” score for each person. As the complaint alleges, a user can search by highly invasive and questionable “flags” provided by CLEAR to learn whether a person has:
- had an abortion
- changed their name (common for trans people and victims of domestic violence)
- owned a registered weapon
- had same-sex relations (described jarringly as “Homosexual Act with a Man” and “Homosexual Act with a Woman”)
- refused to aid a police officer
Activists like plaintiff Cat Brooks are already targeted by law enforcement and white supremacists. Without her consent, CLEAR has now made it easier for individuals who may wish to harm her to buy a trove of her personal data.
“As an activist, it is extremely important to me to maintain control over the dissemination of personal information about me and my family. As a single mother who receives hate mail, it is terrifying to me that Thomson Reuters offers its customers extensive access to my personal information just so it can make a profit. I am bringing this lawsuit to stop Thomson Reuters from selling a product premised on non-consensual invasions of my privacy and the privacy of all Californians.”
—Plaintiff Cat Brooks
Washington Post reports Thomson Reuters sells data to ICE, other government agencies
In February 2021 the Washington Post revealed that ICE used Thomson Reuters’s CLEAR database to pursue immigration violations. Later, the Post pulled federal purchasing records and found that the departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Defense have also purchased ongoing CLEAR contracts.
According to the Post, privacy advocates accuse databases like CLEAR of being a “workaround” for government agencies who would otherwise need a warrant to access consumers’ personal data.
Our Privacy Attorneys
Andre represents plaintiffs in class actions and mass torts, including in the areas of consumer protection, privacy, and products liability.View full profile
Amanda represents employees, consumers, and sexual assault survivors in complex class actions. She also leads the firm’s Voting Rights Task Force.View full profile
Jeff represents workers and consumers in complex class actions involving data breaches and privacy, employment law, and other corporate misconduct.View full profile
Zeke represents plaintiffs in complex class actions concerning consumers’ and workers’ rights, product liability, privacy, and constitutional law.View full profile