Why Biometric Privacy Is Important

Post Authored by Haley Jenkins

Imagine walking down a crowded public street. Maybe you’re running errands. Hurrying to work. Going for a jog. Now imagine that everyone else on that street could snap a photo of you with their smartphone and–unbeknownst to you–instantly find out who you are, what you do, or where you work and live. This is the future imagined by Clearview AI, a facial recognition company that operated in relative secrecy until 2019.

Now imagine there’s nothing you can do about it. That is the future imagined by companies more concerned with their bottom line than with your privacy.

Proponents of facial recognition technology tout its ability to aid law enforcement in identifying suspects and solving crimes. Indeed, the Clearview AI has already licensed its app to police departments in Atlanta, Georgia; Clifton, New Jersey; Bradenton, Florida; Gainesville, Florida; Broward County, Florida; and the New York State Police.[1] But the technology is ripe for abuse, and even weaponization. For example, in China, the government has been using the technology as part of a security measure that has led to the detainment of over 1.8 million people, largely of an already-persecuted group, the Uighur Muslims.[2]

Leaving the Fourth Amendment implications of this technology and its accuracy flaws[3] aside, Clearview AI is a private company with the ability to license its technology to other companies–which it claims to have already done for security purposes–without regulating the app’s use.[4] It is similarly able–and, according to New York Times reporter Kashmir Hill, already does–keep tabs on whom law enforcement searches on its app.[5] This lack of regulation should be a cause for concern for every citizen.

In the last few years, litigation has abounded under Illinois’ unique Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”), 740 ILCS 14/1, et seq. It is the only law in the country that gives individuals a private right of action for private entities’ unlawful collection of individuals’ biometric identifiers, defined to include facial geometry scans, and any information derived from biometric identifiers.[6] BIPA was enacted to prevent companies like Clearview AI–which curated its database by pilfering over three billion images from all over the internet, including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Venmo–from collecting your biometric data without telling you.[7] BIPA has been criticized for its provision of significant statutory damages–$1,000 per negligent violation or $5,000 per reckless or intentional violation.[8] But these statutory damages pale in comparison to the complete and utter erosion of your privacy without your knowledge or consent. As biometric technology becomes more ubiquitous, so too must biometric data privacy legislation.

[1] Beryl Lipton, Records on Clearview AI reveal new info on police use, Muckrock (Jan. 18, 2020), https://www.muckrock.com/news/archives/2020/jan/18/clearview-ai-facial-recogniton-records/.

[2] Yuan Yang & Madhumita Murgia, How China cornered the facial recognition surveillance market, L.A. Times (Dec. 9, 2019), https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2019-12-09/china-facial-recognition-surveillance.

[3] Clare Garvie et al., The Perpetual Line-Up: Unregulated Police Face Recognition in America, Geo. L. Ctr. on Privacy & Tech. (Oct. 18, 2016), https://www.perpetuallineup.org/findings/accuracy#footnote180_tmbjpbj.

[4] Kashmir Hill, The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It, The N.Y. Times (Jan. 18, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/18/technology/clearview-privacy-facial-recognition.html.

[5] Id.

[6] 740 ILCS 14/10.

[7] Kashmir Hill, supra note 4.

[8] 740 ILCS 14/20.

About the Author:

JENKINS_head-shots_382x215Haley litigates on behalf of Stephan Zouras, LLP clients in both class and individual litigation. A spirited advocate, Haley represents people in a broad spectrum of legal disputes ranging from unpaid wages and employee misclassification, to antitrust, consumer fraud, whistleblower actions, and qui tam cases. Haley joined the Stephan Zouras team as a law clerk in 2015 while attending law school. Haley graduated cum laude from Chicago-Kent College of Law in 2016, where she was a member of the Dean’s List, served as the Vice President of Fundraising for the Student Humanitarian Network, and was a two-time regional champion with the Chicago-Kent Trial Advocacy Team. Haley and her cases have been profiled by numerous media outlets including the Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Chicago, and FundFire.

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