In 2008, Illinois enacted the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”) with the purpose of recognizing a person’s privacy right to their “biometric information” and “biometric identifiers”. BIPA was enacted in response to the growing use of biometrics by businesses.
In part because of its private right of action, by which plaintiffs may bring suit against businesses directly, BIPA litigation remains at the forefront of the data privacy litigation landscape as businesses continue to collect the biometric identifiers of their employees. Recent BIPA class action settlements with major tech companies like Facebook and TikTok have been in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but the majority of BIPA litigation is brought against small and medium sized enterprises who collect biometric information in employee timekeeping or for access controls to physical spaces.
To date, defendants have found courts to be generally unwilling to dismiss BIPA litigation at early motion practice. Two recent cases, Thornley v. Clearview AI and Barton v. Swan Surfaces, demonstrate that there are some potential limits to BIPA litigation.
Thornley v. Clearview AI
In Thornley, Melissa Thornley accused Clearview AI of scaping publicly available photos from her social media accounts for facial recognition purposes and selling her biometric information to third parties without her consent. Thornley v. Clearview AI, Inc., 984 F.3d 1241, 1242-1243 (7th Cir. 2021). Thornley initially filed a complaint in Illinois state court, alleging as a class representative, that Clearview violated § 15(c) of BIPA, which requires in relevant part, that “[n]o private entity in possession of a biometric identifier or biometric information may sell, lease, trade, or otherwise profit from a person’s or a customer’s biometric identifier or biometric information.” Id. at 1246. Clearview removed the case to federal court on the basis that the allegation of a statutory violation gave rise to a concrete and particularized injury-in-fact that is necessary for Article III standing. Id. at 1243. Under the Constitution, a plaintiff must have Article III standing to sue in federal court, which requires that the plaintiff prove: (1) an injury in fact; (2) causation of the injury by the defendant; and (3) that the injury is likely to be redressed by the requested relief. See Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540, 1547 (2016). In Spokeo, the Supreme Court of the United States held that a statutory violation could be sufficient to constitute an injury in fact; however, it did not provide any analysis as to which types of statutory violations necessarily implicate concrete and particularized injuries in fact. Id.
The district court held that Clearview alleged violation of § 15(c) of BIPA was “only a bare statutory violation, not the kind of concrete and particularized harm that would support standing”, the case must be remanded to the state court. Thornley., 984 F.3d at 1242. Clearview then appealed to the Seventh Circuit, who concurred with the District Court and remanded the case back to the Illinois State Court for much the same lack of standing. Id. Clearview has now petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States to take its case. See Porter Wells, Clearview AI Will Take BIPA Standing Challenge to Supreme Court.
Barton v. Swan Surfaces, LLC
In Barton, a unionized employee of Swan Surfaces, LLC (“Swan”) was required to clock in and out of her employer’s manufacturing plant using her fingerprints as part of company protocol. Barton v. Swan Surfaces, LLC, No. No. 20-cv-499-SPM, 2021 WL 793983 at *1 (S.D. Ill March 2, 2021). On May 29, 2020 Barton filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois alleging that she represented a class of individuals who “while residing in the State of Illinois, had their fingerprints collected, captured, received, otherwise obtained and/or stored by Swan”. Id. at *2. Barton asserted Swan violated BIPA in: (1) failing to institute, maintain, and adhere to publicly available retention schedule in violation of 740 ILCS 14/15(a); and (2) failing to obtain informed written consent and release before collecting biometric of information. Id. On July 31, 2020, Swan filed a Motion to Dismiss, asserting in relevant part, that Barton’s BIPA claims were preempted by § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”). Id.
On March 2, 2021, the court held that as Barton was a unionized employee, her Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”), which contained a management rights clause and grievance procedure, controlled and as such Barton’s BIPA claims were preempted by § 301 of the LMRA. In coming to its conclusion, the court heavily relied on the courts holding in Miller v. Southwest Airlines, Inc., 926 F.3d 898 (7th Cir. 2019). Id. at *6. In Miller, the Seventh Circuit held an adjustment board had to resolve the employees’ dispute over the airline’s fingerprint collection practices because their unions may have bargained over the practice on their behalf. Miller, 926 F.3d 898. The court in Barton noted that the United States “Supreme Court has held that the RLA preemption standard is virtually identical to the pre-emption standard the Court employs in cases involving § 301 of the LMRA” and therefore the same outcome should apply. Barton, 2021 WL 793983 at *4.
While these cases demonstrate the potential to circumvent or limit BIPA litigation, the increased volume of biometric information being used by companies and the push for biometric policies that govern the use of these technologies and promote safeguards for consumers will undoubtedly continue.
With many states looking to implement biometric privacy laws similar to BIPA, it is important to have legal tech counsel to address compliance with these emerging laws. Beckage attorneys, who are also technologists and former tech business owners, have years of collective experience with new technologies, like artificial intelligence, biometric data, facial recognition technology. We have a team of highly skilled lawyers that stay up to date on all developments in case law on BIPA and who can help your company best defense given the current legal landscape. Our team can help assist your company in assessing and mitigating risks associated with emerging technologies.
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In January of 2021, a bipartisan group of New York State lawmakers proposed a comprehensive policy that places restrictions on the collection of biometric information by companies operating in the state. Assembly Bill 27, the Biometric Privacy Act, would allow for consumers to sue companies that improperly use or retain an individual’s biometric information. New York’s biometric act follows suit behind Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), the first and most robust state law that guards against the unlawful collection and storing of biometric information. Like BIPA, Assembly Bill 27 was created to place regulations on a company’s handling of biometric data, such as fingerprints, voiceprints, retina scans, and scans of the hand and face geometry. Assembly Bill 27, however, does not cover writing samples, written signatures, photographs, or physical descriptions.
What Is Included?
The Biometric Privacy Act requires businesses collecting biometric identifiers or information to develop a written policy establishing a retention schedule and guidelines for permanently destroying the biometric data. The destruction of the data must occur when the initial purpose for collecting the biometric data has been “satisfied,” or within three years of the individual’s last interaction with the company, whichever occurs first. This bill also includes a private right of action that would allow consumers to sue businesses for statutory damages up to $1000 for each negligent violation and $5,000 for each intentional or reckless violation.
Further, AB 27 requires companies to obtain written consent from individuals before collecting, purchasing, or obtaining biometric information and provide notification to those individuals about the specific purpose and length of time the data will collected, stored, and used. Companies are prohibited from selling, leasing, trading, and profiting from biometric information and strict restraints are placed on a business’s ability to disclose biometric information to a third party without consumer consent.
The Impact of Biometrics on Future Legislation
With the increased volume of biometric information being used by companies leveraging biometric-driven timekeeping systems and other technologies, the push for biometric privacy policies that govern the use of these technologies and promotes safeguards for employees is gaining momentum. Several states are also looking to amend their breach notification and security laws to include biometric identifiers. For example, New York State’s SHIELD Act, the breach notification law enacted in 2019, has already been expanded to include biometric data in its definition of private information.
At Beckage, we have a team of highly skilled lawyers that stay up to date on proposed and enacted legislation. With states looking to implement biometric privacy laws similar to BIPA, it is important to have legal tech counsel to address compliance with these emerging laws. Our team can help assist your company in assessing and mitigating risks associated with emerging technologies.
*Attorney Advertising. Prior results do not guarantee similar outcomes. *
Today is Data Privacy Day – an international event held annually on January 28th with the purpose of promoting privacy and data protection best practices for consumers and businesses. At Beckage, every day is Data Privacy Day – our team of lawyers and technologists works daily with clients on data security and privacy measures, from developing policies and procedures to comply with international and domestic privacy regimes to responding to headline-making data incidents and defending clients in data security and privacy class actions.
The legal landscape surrounding data security and privacy is constantly evolving to adapt to technological advancements and global privacy trends. In observance of this holiday, we asked some of our experienced team members what they expect to see in this space in 2021.
My data privacy prediction for 2021 is also related to biometrics. This year we will see the continued rise of regulation over and litigation concerning the use of biometric information.
A few years after the Illinois State Legislature passed BIPA, the Biometric Information Privacy Act, we started to see a slew of class action lawsuits filed against businesses alleged to have violated BIPA’s written release requirement. BIPA class actions have ranged from headline-making cases against major tech companies, such has Facebook, to small and medium-sized businesses across numerous industries.
While biometric lawsuits were once viewed as a risk associated only with doing business in Illinois, other states, like Washington and Texas, have followed suit by passing their own laws mimicking BIPA and others are eyeing their own biometric privacy bills. Of note, a bill nearly identical to BIPA is pending in the New York State legislature, which, if passed, could have a much larger impact on businesses given that New York is one of the largest economies in the United States.
At the federal level, we have recently seen the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enter the biometric conversation with its consent agreement with EverAlbum, Inc. This consent order may have set a nation-wide standard for businesses’ use and collection of biometric information, regardless of whether those businesses operate in states that have enacted or pending biometric privacy laws.
In short, in 2021 the risks and penalties associated with collecting and using biometric information are steep. Any business, regardless of location, that is engaging in biometric information collection should conduct a privacy audit, look at its written policies, and ensure that it has the requisite consents in mind. As a litigator, I always say “demonstrable compliance is the strongest legal defense,” and that is certainly true in the biometric privacy space.
At the heart of what we do as incident response privacy practitioners is data breach prevention. My 2021 prediction for the privacy landscape is an expansion in the use of multi-factor authentication. This is great news for incident response because, often, multi-factor authentication is an important step in helping to avoid a data incident and protect the privacy of data.
Multi-factor authentication is when a user identifies themself through biometrics, like a facial or fingerprint scan, or though entering a code on a device to confirm access to sensitive spaces, like a bank account or work network. It helps in avoiding unauthorized access and we expect to see this technology used in new spaces in 2021, such as when using an ATM or checking out at a grocery store.
We also anticipate an expansion in the use of biometrics over device authentication. There have been numerous documented incidents where device authentication has backfired. A famous example occurred in 2019 when attackers were able to gain access to Twitter CEO Jeff Dorsey’s account using a SIM card swap scheme. Because biometric identifiers are much more difficult to change or duplicate, using a facial scan or fingerprint is a much more secure method of confirming a user’s identity. And while this brings up a host of other issues about safeguarding biometric information, I think we can expect to see it used a lot more soon.
In 2021, I expect to see increased enforcement of privacy and data security laws and regulations at both the federal and state level. Considering new leadership in Washington D.C. and the looming impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, I predict not just an uptick in enforcement, but also a more muscular approach by regulators. More enforcement actions are expected, a further reminder for companies to work with experienced tech privacy and security legal counsel to minimize legal and technical risk.
At the federal level, look for enhanced enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). On the state level, I anticipate a similar response by state attorneys general outside of Washington.
In 2020, we saw a major uptick in cyber-attacks, due in part to companies having to quickly adopt policies for a distributed workforce. There were also numerous COVID-related phishing attempts. These developments have resulted in a record number of data security incidents. Therefore, I expect the focus of these enforcement actions to be not just on privacy compliance, but also on effective data security and incident response.
My prediction for the privacy compliance area in 2021 is the increased focus on consumer privacy rights. With California’s comprehensive privacy law, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), now one year old, there is increase awareness and attention to data subject rights. With a myriad of other states entertaining statutes similar to the CCPA, I anticipate a host of plaintiff related lawsuits filed under these statutes’ privacy right of action provisions. The result is that business operating in this highly global, multi-jurisdictional environment will need to continue to work towards building out robust and scalable data security and privacy infrastructures that take into account not only the GDPR and CCPA but other emerging laws. For example, updating forward-facing website disclosure policies and user agreements will be paramount here to be sure they comply with the required disclosures.
Relatedly, my second prediction as that we will continue to see an uptick in litigation filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act and frankly no end is in sight. Businesses are continuing to educate themselves on the legal standards necessary for building and maintaining an accessible website. We also anticipate much in the way of legislation or increase DOJ involvement in this area under the new administration.
With so much of our everyday lives moving online in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a large uptick in data breaches caused by third-party vendors and service providers. And when it comes to the healthcare industry, I anticipate a continued increase in incidents that originate with business associates and other vendors providing services to covered entities.
In fact, about 40% of HIPAA breaches involve or are caused by business associates. With a new administration that’s likely to favor regulatory action, we expect to see regulatory authorities continue to enforce actions against covered entities whose business associates or service providers experience breaches.
So what does this mean for the industry? We expect to see covered entities taking a much closer look at who they are working with—and whether those parties have robust security and privacy protocols. For this reason, business associates may need to prepare accordingly. Whether you are a covered entity or a business associate, now is the time to dust off vendor due diligence and monitoring policies and procedures. It’s also a good idea to take a closer look at those service agreements and business associate agreements to make sure your service providers are making the right security commitments—and assuming responsibility—when there’s a breach.
My first prediction for the global data privacy space in 2021 is the creation and evolution of additional data privacy regulations across the globe. The so-called “GDPR Effect” has been pushing data privacy trends across the globe, and we expect to this to continue as more regions and countries adopt legislation mimicking parts of the GDPR, putting their own unique twist on data privacy, or modernizing their existing data privacy regulations to make them more compatible with the GDPR and other global privacy regimes.
My second prediction is a major emphasis on cross-border data transfers. The 2020 Schrems II decision invalidated the EU-US Privacy Shield for sending data from Europe to the United States. This decision was focused on data transfers between the United States and the European Union, but it also highlights a challenge we are continuing to see in international law – while these privacy regulations see borders, the digital realm does not. Thus, it is increasingly hard to segment data and maintain it within a specific region. This year, I anticipate a lot of tension between regions that approach privacy and security from various perspectives that don’t always align. This presents a challenge for businesses to continue to operate efficiently while minimizing risk and dealing with multiple global privacy and security regulations.
Regardless of the specific trends we expect to see this year, one thing is certain – the global data privacy landscape will continue to change rapidly, creating a fascinating environment for data privacy and security lawyers to practice in. I am very excited to be a part of such a dynamic team that will continue to provide services to our clients in this space.
Today, as well as every other day of the year, we hope you take some time to reflect on data privacy and security and the ways you can better protect your personal or business’ private information. The Beckage team is passionate about to educating the masses on the importance of data security, the consumer privacy rights and the impact on businesses, and the steps you can take safeguard your information. We are committed to providing updates on relevant legislation, current threats, and proactive data security steps. Be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, read our blog, and subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date on the latest in this ever-changing space. Happy Data Privacy Day!
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