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US District Court Paves Way for Trial on Merits in Facebook Biometrics Case

May 9, 2016 | David P. MilianArticles

Judge James Donato of the Northern District Court of California has rejected Facebook's motion to dismiss a suit brought against it for storage and analysis of users' "faceprints" without explicit consent.

The plaintiffs, Illinois residents, are suing over violations of Illinois' Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), one of two pieces of legislation nationwide that authorize statutory damages for unlawful collection of biometric data.

Facebook had submitted a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the terms of the Illinois statute do not apply to the California-based company. Judge Donato denied the motion last week in Licata v. Facebook, and has adopted this ruling in CRMG's Gullen v. Facebook, paving the way for a trial on the merits of the case.

In denying Facebook’s motion, the court flatly rejected Facebook’s arguments that BIPA excludes all information derived from photographs in its definition of "biometric identifiers.” In rejecting Facebook’s argument, the court cited another BIPA decision from a case brought by Carey Rodriguez (Norberg v. Shutterfly, Inc. – the first case in the country to construe BIPA) and adopted Carey Rodriguez’s position that BIPA does indeed “address emerging biometric technology, such as Facebook’s face recognition software…without including physical identifiers that are more qualitative a non-digital in nature.”

"The statute is an informed consent privacy law addressing the collection, retention, and use of personal biometric identifiers and information at a time when biometric technology is just beginning to be broadly deployed," writes Judge Donato in the ruling. "Trying to cabin this purpose within a specific in-person data collection technique has no support in the words and structure of the statute, and is antithetical to its broad purpose of protecting privacy in the face of emerging biometric technology." 

Read the full ruling on Scribd here.