Proposal Streamlines Use of Biometrics

The Illinois Chamber is pushing SB 3053, sponsored by Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago) and Sen. Chris Nybo (R-Elmhurst), which would amend the state’s biometric law. In 2008, Illinois enacted the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), a law that was designed to regulate the collection and storage of “biometric data.”

The use of biometric data has become increasingly prevalent among employers trying to solidify pay practices and maximize inventory control or facility security. BIPA went largely unnoticed after its enactment, until a series of lawsuits were brought in against private entities that allegedly collected and used biometric data in violation of BIPA. With biometric technology becoming more commonplace in the workplace, BIPA has been used as a potentially lucrative new litigation mechanism for the trial bar.

Dozens of employers have been caught off guard by the rash of class-action lawsuits recently filed in Illinois alleging violations of BIPA. The suits target many industries, including restaurants, hospitality, grocery stores, gas stations, nursing homes, logistics and building management companies. The surge in BIPA litigation results from employers’ increased use of fingerprint scan technology, and the fact that BIPA is the only existing biometric privacy statute that creates a private right of action against employers for damages and attorneys’ fees.

Currently Illinois is one of only three states that have a biometric statute. However, both Texas and Washington statutes limit the scope to commercial purposes only. The Chamber’s proposal simply exempts employers from the Act for internal employment purposes (i.e. time keeping, human resources, fraud prevention, or security purposes.), as long as the employer is not selling or similarly profiting from the biometric identifiers.

Opponents of the bill are attempting to defeat the proposal because they have a monetary incentive to keep the status quo in place. Various boutique law firms who have created a cottage industry on filling class action lawsuits on employers who have allegedly committed minor technical violations of the BIPA. It is important for employers to evaluate their HR and timekeeping purposes to ensure they are compliant with the BIPA.

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