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    Locke Lord QuickStudy: Beyond Borders: COVID-19 Highlights the Potential Widespread Impact of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”)

    Locke Lord Publications

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    The COVID-19 pandemic created a new normal for Americans—one where family members of all ages ‎work and go to school from home.  Businesses and schools have turned to technology to facilitate ‎remote work and e-learning.  Companies in the education space have rapidly adapted to offer expanded ‎online educational experiences.  Although distance learning tools have allowed schools to continue ‎teaching despite the pandemic, the new online platforms and software offerings raise concerns about ‎student data privacy.‎1 

    Similarly, employers rushing to facilitate work from home may not have considered the legal risks ‎associated with data collection and analytics as thoroughly as they would have under normal ‎circumstances.  Unfortunately, the desire to quickly roll out technology for videoconferencing, identity ‎verification, and timekeeping may expose businesses to liability under the Illinois Biometric Information ‎Privacy Act (“BIPA”).‎2‎  Companies that capture or collect biometric information such as fingerprints or ‎voiceprints3‎ run the risk of violating BIPA if proper disclosures and procedures are not in place.  Because ‎of the unprecedented increase in the use of technology and the large penalties that can accumulate under ‎BIPA,‎4 businesses and insurers need to understand the risks associated with recording or collecting ‎biometric information.‎

    COVID-19 Will Result in Increased BIPA Claims Against Businesses Servicing the “Rush to ‎Remote”‎

    The recent class action filed in the Northern District of California illustrates some of the risks accepted ‎by businesses assisting with remote learning.  In H.K. et al. v. Google LLC, two students, through their ‎father, filed a class action complaint against Google, LLC (“Google”).‎5‎  In the complaint, the plaintiffs ‎allege violations of Illinois’ BIPA and the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”).  ‎The complaint alleges that Google provided ChromeBooks with its pre-installed “G Suite for Education” ‎platform, collecting and storing face scans, voiceprints, and other forms of personal identifying ‎information for children.‎6  Specifically, the complaint alleges that Google violated BIPA by providing ‎software to the students and collecting certain biometric data without (1) providing a written policy ‎regarding data retention and destruction of biometric identifiers or biometric information and (2) ‎securing informed written consent.7‎ 

    Although the class action brought against Google is not specifically tied to actions Google took in ‎response to COVID-19, the lawsuit exemplifies the increased exposure to privacy regulations faced by ‎stakeholders of the recent increases in remote work, learning, and services.‎

    The Rise in BIPA Litigation

    Although BIPA became effective in 2008, the recent uptick in BIPA litigation is a natural result of major ‎court opinions permitting litigants to pursue causes of action against private entities for technical ‎violations of statutory rights.  Specifically, in a January 2019 opinion, the Illinois Supreme Court held ‎that “an individual need not allege some actual injury or adverse effect, beyond violation of his or her ‎rights under the Act, in order to qualify as an ‘aggrieved’ person and be entitled to seek liquidated ‎damages and injunctive relief pursuant to the Act.”‎8 

    As hundreds of BIPA-related lawsuits have now been filed by customers and employees in the last two ‎years, biometric information privacy and security has quickly became a major risk for businesses and ‎their insurers.  This increased litigation has raised questions regarding federal court standing and BIPA’s ‎extraterritorial impact.‎

    Federal Court Standing

    Beyond the debates surrounding state statutory standing, the U.S. Courts of Appeals have begun to ‎wrestle with federal court Article III standing.  Just a few weeks ago, on May 5, 2020, the Seventh ‎Circuit held that a plaintiff’s claims that defendant failed to fulfill the informed consent requirements of ‎BIPA’s Section 15(b) satisfied Article III’s injury-in-fact requirement.‎9  Specifically, the Court stated ‎‎“[t]his was not a failure to satisfy a purely procedural requirement” as “[plaintiff] did not realize that ‎there was a choice to be made and what the costs and benefits were for each option. This deprivation is a ‎concrete injury-in-fact that is particularized to [her].” Apart from deepening a circuit split on the ‎standing issue, the Court’s decision also alerts employers that removal to federal court is one more ‎strategy available in the defense of putative class actions.‎

    Extra-Territoriality

    Although businesses may assume their operations are not restricted by BIPA as long as they do not ‎operate in Illinois, this assumption could be costly. The extent of BIPA’s geographical reach is not yet ‎fully known.  Recent cases like H.K. et al. v. Google LLC, filed in California, shed light on the ‎extraterritorial impact of BIPA. But ultimately, the application of BIPA to activity outside of Illinois is ‎fact-intensive. This need for case-specific inquiry means that discovery will likely be required before the ‎viability of extraterritoriality defenses can be determined.‎
    In light of the need for rapid action and reaction to the hurdles created by COVID-19, as well as the ‎lack of clarity regarding just how far BIPA regulations extend, businesses can reduce their exposure to ‎BIPA liability by familiarizing themselves with the requirements of the Act and implementing data ‎policies consistent with those requirements.‎

    Visit our COVID-19 Resource Center often for up-to-date information to help you stay informed of the legal issues related to COVID-19.

     

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    1 Valerie Strauss, As schooling rapidly moves online across the country, concerns rise about student data privacy,‎ Wash. Post (March 20, 2020).
    2 Biometric Information Privacy Act (eff. 10-03-08).
    3 Although a “voiceprint” is not defined by the statute, voiceprints are referenced as one of the many “biometric identifiers” ‎protected by BIPA.  “‘Biometric identifier’ means a retina or iris scan, fingerprint, voiceprint, or scan of hand or face ‎geometry. Biometric identifiers do not include writing samples, written signatures, photographs, human biological samples ‎used for valid scientific testing or screening, demographic data, tattoo descriptions, or physical descriptions such as height, ‎weight, hair color, or eye color.” See 740 ILCS 14/10 (2016).‎
    4 BIPA permits any “person aggrieved” by a statutory violation to sue for the greater of either actual damages or “liquidated ‎damages” of $1,000 for a negligent violation or $5,000 for an intentional or reckless violation. See 740 ILCS 14/20 (2016).‎
    5 H.K. et al. v. Google LLC, Class Action Complaint, 5:20-cv-02257 (April 2, 2020).
    6 Class Action Complaint, ¶ 6.‎
    7 Class Action Complaint, ¶¶ 18-19.‎
    8 ‎Rosenbach v. Six Flags Entm't Corp., 129 N.E.3d 1197, 1207 (Ill. 2019)‎.‎
    9 Bryant et al. v. Compass Group U.S.A. Inc., No. 20-1443 (7th Cir. May 5, 2020).‎

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