Adam Pezen, Carlo Licata and Nimesh Patel are among millions of people who have been tagged in Facebook photos at some point in the last decade, sometimes at the suggestion of an automated tagging feature with facial recognition technology.
However, it was their Illinois addresses that put the names of the trio in a lawsuit that Facebook recently agreed to reach an agreement for $ 550 million, which could lead to payments of a couple of hundred dollars to several million users of Illinois social networking site.
The lawsuit, one of the more than 400 filed against large and small technology companies in the past five years, according to a law firm’s account, alleges that Facebook violated Illinois’ strict biometric privacy law that allows people to sue Companies that do not obtain consent before harvesting consumer data, including through facial and fingerprint scanning. Privacy advocates praise the law as the nation’s strongest form of protection in the commercial use of such data, and has survived the continued efforts of the technology industry and other companies to weaken it.
Lawyers who focus on the privacy law predict that the Facebook agreement, if approved by a federal judge, will trigger a new round of lawsuits and make existing objectives more likely to reach an agreement. The Illinois legal landscape could also shape discussions about privacy protection in other states and in Congress, particularly whether people should have the right to sue for violations.
“We are going to see many voters who say, ‘Why not me?'” Said Jay Edelson, a Chicago lawyer whose firm was the first to sue Facebook for allegedly violating Illinois law. “This agreement is really going to emphasize that having laws in the books is the difference between people who go to court and get real relief, and otherwise they are simply trampled by these technology companies.”
Facebook’s ‘Like’ sign on a company poster at its headquarters in Menlo Park, California, on April 25, 2019. Photo AP.RELATED
Although the purchase and sale of consumer data has become a multi-billion dollar industry, Illinois law, the Biometric Information Privacy Law, precedes even the iconic “like” feature of Facebook and was a reaction to single company failure.
Pay By Touch, a startup that partnered with grocery stores to offer fingerprint-based payments, filed for bankruptcy and was expected to auction its assets, including its user information database. Concerned about where user data would end, Illinois lawmakers quickly passed a law in 2008 that requires companies to obtain their consent before collecting biometric information and creating a policy that specifies how that information will be kept and when it will be destroyed.
It also granted Illinois residents the right to sue for $ 1,000 for negligent violations and $ 5,000 for intentional violations.
For years, “literally nothing happened,” said John Fitzgerald, a Chicago lawyer and author of a book on the law that will come out this year. He could not find any record of a case filed before 2015.
The firm of Edelson and others that focus on class action lawsuits were the first to accuse Facebook of not complying with the Illinois standard in multiple lawsuits filed in 2015. The three Illinois men who led the class action lawsuit against Facebook said they never They were told that the site’s photo tagging system used facial recognition technology to analyze photos and then create and store “facial templates.”
Later, a federal judge grouped the cases as a class action lawsuit on behalf of Illinois Facebook users who were among the facial templates stored as of June 7, 2011.
Facebook barely changed the technology last year. The tag suggestion tool was replaced by a wider facial recognition setting, which is disabled by default.
Illinois law is the basis of two recent lawsuits filed against Clearview AI, a facial recognition company that collects images sweeping social networking sites and other places and then sells access to its database to law enforcement agencies.
Facebook, Twitter, Venmo and YouTube have demanded that Clearview stop capturing the images of its users after the research reports from The New York Times and Buzzfeed.
Although there are lawsuits in Illinois against other major technology companies, such as Google, Snapchat and Shutterfly, the vast majority of cases are filed on behalf of employees who were ordered to use fingerprint scanning systems to track their working hours and that accuse employers or creators’ systems of not obtaining their prior consent.
Illinois is one of three states that have laws governing the use of biometric data. But the other two, Texas and Washington, do not allow individual lawsuits, but instead delegate the application to their attorney generals.
The State Chamber of Commerce and technology industry groups have backed the amendments to dismiss Illinois law on individual lawsuits or time-free systems.
Illinois law puts “innovation litigation,” said Tyler Diers, executive director of Illinois and Midwest of the TechNet industrial group, whose members include Apple, Facebook and Google.
“This case exemplifies why the consumer privacy law should empower state regulators to enforce rather than fill the pockets of class action attorneys,” Diers said in a statement.
Against Illinois law, some companies choose to leave the state. Sony, for example, refuses to sell its “aibo” robot dog to Illinois residents and says that the device’s ability to behave differently with people depends on facial recognition technology.
Supporters of the law argue that it is not difficult to comply, you just have to tell consumers that you plan to use biometric data and get their consent.
State Rep. Ann Williams, a Chicago Democrat, said the ability to sue is critical for consumers facing global companies that earn billions of dollars a year.
“If the fine is just a fine, that’s the cost of doing business for them,” said Williams. “An agreement like (the case of Facebook), we are talking about real money that will go to consumers.”
However, lawyers defending smaller companies argue that the law should be reduced to allow the use of fingerprint scanners to track employee hours.
“Small and medium-sized businesses really don’t have the resources to defend these cases or pay a big deal,” said Mary Smigielski, a partner at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith and co-leader of the company’s biometric law-focused group.
The Facebook case sailed through the courts of Illinois and California for almost five years before the announcement of an agreement last month, days after the US Supreme Court refused to hear arguments.
Edelson said he expects the $ 550 million settlement, which the lawyers in the case described as a record amount for a privacy claim, will pressure the lawyers to refuse credit monitoring or insignificant cash payments that are more typical in agreements to resolve data privacy demands.
Individuals eligible for the agreement will be contacted directly and do not need to take any action until then, the lawyers in the case said.