Late last week, a federal appeals court allowed a class-action lawsuit against Facebook to proceed.
Plaintiffs claim the social media giant’s facial recognition technology violates an Illinois law designed to protect individuals’ biometric data, the Biometric Information Privacy Act.
“(BIPA) requires companies who take or use your biometric information to give you notice of what it is they’re taking, how they’re going to use it, how they’re going to store it, who will have access to it, and also to get your consent before they actually take and use it in that way,” said Rebecca Glenberg, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. (The ACLU filed a brief in support of the suit.)
Kris Hammond, a professor of computer science and journalism at Northwestern University, says he’s less interested in the suit itself and more interested in the fact that it’s gotten people talking about this facial recognition technology. He says it’s important to “understand what these technologies can do, what they can do for us, and what they can do to us.”
“On the positive side, if there are crimes and you can identify people based upon photographic evidence, that’ll be useful. If there are missing persons you can actually find them in images in various public spaces, that’ll be powerful,” Hammond said. “But then, do you really want it to be that if you go to a political rally, you are identified?”
For her part, Glenberg is glad to see the case move forward. “We’ve seen over the years biometric technology expand so quickly, to the point that it can be used in many different ways to maintain huge databases of information about individuals that can be used for things like surveillance by the police, or even by retail establishments,” Glenberg said. “The information just proliferates unless there are means for individuals to have some control over their own information.”
Facebook says it intends to keep fighting the suit.