While Washington’s comprehensive data privacy bill (SB 6182) — inspired by California’s CCPA — died when legislators could not hammer out a compromise over enforcement mechanisms, the state legislature did reach agreement and Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law a facial recognition bill (SB 6280) that provides some important privacy and antidiscrimination provisions regarding state and local governmental use of the technology.
In an important opinion, the Ninth Circuit affirmed a lower court’s ruling that plaintiffs in the ongoing Facebook biometric privacy class action have alleged a concrete injury-in-fact to confer Article III standing and that the class was properly certified. (Patel v. Facebook, Inc., No. 18-15982 (9th Cir. Aug. 8, 2019)). Given the California district court’s prior rulings which denied Facebook’s numerous motions to dismiss on procedural and substantive grounds, and the Illinois Supreme Court’s January 2019 blockbuster ruling in Rosenbach, which held that a person “aggrieved” by a violation of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”) need not allege some actual injury or harm beyond a procedural violation to have standing to bring an action under the statute, the Ninth Circuit’s decision was not entirely surprising. Still, the ruling is significant as a federal appeals court has ruled on important procedural issues in a BIPA action and found standing. The case will be sent back to the lower court with the prospect of a trial looming, and given BIPA’s statutory damage provisions, Facebook may be looking at a potential staggering damage award or substantial settlement.
UPDATE: Subsequent to the introduction of the New York City Council biometric privacy bill, on March 5, 2019 members of the Florida legislature introduced the “Florida Biometric Information Privacy Act” (SB 1270). The statute generally follows the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) regarding notice and consent requirements and notably provides for a private right of action and the availability of statutory damages. As with the New York City bill, we will follow the progress of the Florida bill, as well as other pending biometric privacy legislation (e.g., Montana’s HB 645, which was introduced on March 1, 2019 and is another BIPA-like bill, but only allows enforcement by the state attorney general).
UPDATE: Both the Florida and Montana bills died in committee this past spring.
In light of the recent decision by the Illinois Supreme Court in Rosenbach v. Six Flags Entertainment Corp., 2019 IL 123186 (Ill. Jan. 25, 2019), it is worth remembering that late last year, New York City Council members Ritchie Torres (and additional co-sponsors) introduced a bill for the city council to consider that would regulate the use of biometric technology in New York City. Bill Int. No. 1170 (the “Bill”) would amend Section 1, Chapter 5 of Title 20 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York and require businesses (but not governmental actors) to give notice to customers if they are collecting “biometric identifier information.” The Bill, which contains some similar provisions to the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”), includes a private right of enforcement but avoids the statutory standing issue litigated in Rosenbach by providing that “any person who[se] biometric identifier information was collected, retained, converted, stored or shared in violation of [the law] may commence an action.” If enacted, this bill could lead to a deluge of individual and class action suits in New York based on biometric activity.
Last Friday, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in the long-awaited Rosenbach case that an individual does not have to plead an actual injury or harm, apart from the statutory violation itself, in order to have statutory standing to sue under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). The Illinois Supreme Court ruling will allow procedural BIPA violations to proceed (and multiply) in state court – and has reportedly already prompted parties to settle such actions. However, recent rulings in federal court have offered a divergent interpretation of the related, but different Article III standing issue.
In a long-awaited decision, the Illinois Supreme Court issued its ruling in Rosenbach v. Six Flags Entertainment Corp., 2019 IL 123186 (Ill. Jan. 25, 2019), on whether a person “aggrieved” by a violation of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”) must allege some actual injury or harm beyond a procedural violation to have standing to bring an action under the statute. Since the Court took the appeal in May 2018, businesses have been waiting for the answer to this important question, as the robust wave of Illinois biometric privacy suits against Illinois-based employers and other businesses continued apace and several Illinois courts issued disparate interpretations about what it means to be “aggrieved” under the statute.
In a disappointment to many of the defendants in pending cases, a unanimous Court in Rosenbach reversed the appellate court and ruled that an individual does not have to plead an actual injury or harm, apart from the statutory violation itself, in order to have standing to sue under BIPA. The outcome was not a complete surprise, as previous courts (such as a California federal court and an Illinois appellate court) had ruled or expressed in dicta that mere technical violations of BIPA were sufficient under the statute.
Yes, it’s time for the end-of-year blog post – a look back at interesting issues of 2018 and a look forward to what we see coming down the pike in the new year.
The Look Back
- In the past year, blockchain buzz was everywhere. Although still early, blockchain has in fact began to show promise as a technology bringing efficiency and cost reduction to many business operations. In 2018, many industries tested the technology and started pilot programs with an eye to replacing or supplementing traditional client-server systems with a distributed ledger-based system. 2019 promises much more in the adoption of blockchain. For continuing coverage of some of the more novel issues that blockchain presents, subscribe to our Blockchain and the Law blog.
- “Web scraping” (also known as spidering and crawling) remained at the forefront in 2018 as companies used scraping for purposes such as consumer-facing data aggregation, real-time e-commerce analytics (e.g., dynamic pricing strategies), competitive intelligence, user sentiment analysis, etc. 2018 produced many important scraping decisions in the courts, including those about CFAA liability and the intersection of scraping and software licensing, and we await the Ninth Circuit’s decision in the closely-watched hiQ appeal, which will hopefully address a number of important open issues presented by the practice.
- Privacy and data security continued to be a hot-button boardroom issue this year. The GDPR became effective, and California passed major privacy legislation which will take effect in 2020. The almost daily announcement of data security breaches continues to spawn class action litigation, testing the principles of standing after Spokeo. The federal government has pushed multiple initiatives to improve the nation’s cyber defenses. The wave of litigation under the Illinois biometric privacy law (BIPA) against Illinois employers and businesses persisted in 2018, and the continued viability of such suits may hinge on an upcoming ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court, as well as the outcome in California courts regarding the BIPA actions against social media entities. See our Privacy Law Blog for more discussion on 2018 privacy and data security developments.
On November 20, 2018, the Illinois Supreme Court heard oral argument on whether a company’s technical violation of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”) is sufficient to confer standing or whether a plaintiff must allege actual harm resulted from the violation. (Rosenbach v. Six Flags Entertainment Corp. et…
Last December, we noted the continuing robust wave of Illinois biometric privacy suits. At that time, dozens of suits had been filed in Illinois state court against Illinois-based employers and other businesses alleging violation of Illinois’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), which generally regulates the collection, retention, and disclosure of personal biometric identifiers and biometric information, and encourages businesses that collect such personal data to employ reasonable safeguards. More and more BIPA actions against employers and businesses based upon alleged violations of the notice and consent provisions of the statute continue to be filed, even as the Illinois Supreme Court considers the appeal of the Rosenbach decision. In that case, the Illinois Supreme Court will presumably answer the question of whether a person “aggrieved” by a violation of BIPA must allege some injury or harm beyond a procedural violation. The ruling will certainly have an effect on the pending lawsuits alleging mere procedural BIPA violations.
Late last month, an Illinois appellate court reversed a lower court’s dismissal of biometric privacy claims against a tanning salon franchisee that had collected the plaintiff’s fingerprint to allow entry in its own salon and any L.A. Tan salon location nationwide. (Sekura v. Krishna Schaumburg Tan, Inc., 2018 IL App (1st) 180175 (Ill. App. Sept. 28, 2018)). The plaintiff alleged that the tanning salon violated the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), which regulates the collection, retention, and disclosure of personal biometric identifiers and biometric information, by collecting her fingerprints without obtaining the required written release and providing the required disclosure concerning its retention policy, and further by disclosing her fingerprints to a third-party vendor. [Note: In 2016, in a separate suit, the same plaintiff settled BIPA claims with L.A. Tan Enterprises, Inc., operator (directly and through franchisees) of L.A. Tan tanning salons].
An Illinois district court remanded to state court for lack of standing a biometric privacy suit brought by employees over the collection and storage of individuals’ fingerprints allegedly in violation of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, 740 ILCS 14/1 (“BIPA”). (Aguilar v. Rexnord, LLC, No. 17 CV 9019 (N.D. Ill. July 3, 2018)). This decision echoes other recent rulings where federal courts have found a lack of Article III standing in disputes where employees claimed procedural violations of BIPA over the knowing collection of fingerprints for timekeeping purposes, absent any claims of wrongful sharing or disclosure. See e.g., Howe v. Speedway LLC, No. 17-07303 (N.D. Ill. May 31, 2018) (even if failing to provide certain disclosures and obtain his written authorization prior to collecting and storing plaintiff’s fingerprints may constitute a violation of BIPA, such procedural violations did not cause an injury in fact where the employee was aware of the nature and purpose of collection); Goings v. UGN, Inc., No. 17-9340 (N.D. Ill. June 13, 2018) (remanding BIPA claims for lack of Article III standing because claims were too abstract and employee was aware he was providing fingerprint data to his employers and did not claim any non-consensual disclosure of such data).