Tech giant Facebook is reportedly facing billions of dollars in potential damages as a federal appeals court rejected the firm’s argument to halt a class action lawsuit relating to the storing of biometric data of millions of users.
TechCrunch reports that a federal appeals court rejected Facebook’s argument to block a class action lawsuit this week which could see the firm facing billions in potential damages. The lawsuit has been moving through the court system since 2015 when Facebook users in Illinois sued the firm for violating the states’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) by automatically collecting and identifying individuals in photographs posted on the social media site.
This week, a unanimous decision was made by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco allowing the lawsuit to proceed with the court stating in its decision: “We conclude that the development of face template using facial-recognition technology without consent (as alleged here) invades an individual’s private affairs and concrete interests. Similar conduct is actionable at common law.”
The American Civil Liberties Union supported the court’s ruling with ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project staff attorney Nathan Freed Wessler stating: “This decision is a strong recognition of the dangers of unfettered use of face surveillance technology. The capability to instantaneously identify and track people based on their faces raises a chilling potential for privacy violations at an unprecedented scale. Both corporations and the government are now on notice that this technology poses unique risks to people’s privacy and safety.”
Facebook plans to appeal the decision telling Reuters in a statement: “We have always disclosed our use of face recognition technology and that people can turn it on or off at any time.” Under BIPA, negligent violations of the privacy law could be subject to damages of up to $1,000 and intentional privacy violations are subject to $5,000 in penalties per instance. With a potential of seven million Facebook users that can take part in the class-action lawsuit, Facebook could see itself facing a hefty fine.
Rebecca Glenberg, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Illinois, commented on the case stating: “BIPA’s innovative protections for biometric information are now enforceable in federal court. If a corporation violates a statute by taking your personal information without your consent, you do not have to wait until your data is stolen or misused to go to court. As our General Assembly understood when it enacted BIPA, a strong enforcement mechanism is crucial to hold companies accountable when they violate our privacy laws. Corporations that misuse Illinoisans’ sensitive biometric data now do so at their own peril.”