Washington Becomes Third State to Enact Biometric Privacy Law
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On May 16, 2017, the Governor of the State of Washington, Jay Inslee, signed into law House Bill 1493 (“H.B. 1493”), which sets forth requirements for businesses who collect and use biometric identifiers for commercial purposes. The law will become effective on July 23, 2017. With the enactment of H.B. 1493, Washington becomes the third state to pass legislation regulating the commercial use of biometric identifiers. Previously, both Illinois and Texas enacted the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (740 ILCS 14) (“BIPA”) and the Texas Statute on the Capture or Use of Biometric Identifier (Tex. Bus. & Com. Code Ann. §503.001), respectively.

H.B. 1493 defines “biometric identifier” as data generated by automatic measurements of an individual's biological characteristics, such as a fingerprint, voiceprint, eye retinas, irises or other unique biological patterns or characteristics that are used to identify a specific individual. Interestingly, unlike the Illinois and Texas statutes, H.B. 1493’s definition of “biometric identifier” does not reference a record or scan of face geometry (i.e., facial recognition data). The definition also explicitly excludes “physical or digital photographs, video or audio recording or data generated therefrom,” and certain health-related data processed pursuant to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. Notably, several putative class action lawsuits have been filed against social networking sites, such as Shutterfly, for allegedly using facial recognition technology to scan users’ uploaded photographs in violation of BIPA’s notice and consent requirements. Although it is unclear whether H.B.1493 covers scans of face geometry, the lack of explicit inclusion of such data may be a response to such lawsuits.

Pursuant to H.B.1493, a person may not “enroll” a biometric identifier in a database for a commercial purpose without first providing notice, obtaining consent or providing a mechanism to prevent the subsequent use of a biometric identifier for a commercial purpose. In contrast to the Illinois and Texas statutes, which broadly regulate the capture (or, in the case of BIPA, the possession) of biometric identifiers, Washington’s statute is limited to those persons that “enroll” biometric identifiers by capturing the data, converting it into a reference template that cannot be reconstructed into the original output image, and storing it in a database that matches the biometric identifier to a specific individual. Notably, the statute’s limitations on disclosure and retention of biometric identifiers do not apply to biometric identifiers that have been “unenrolled.”

H.B. 1493 contains detailed requirements governing the enrollment of biometric identifiers for a commercial purpose, as well as the subsequent disclosure of such data. In particular:

  • The statute makes it clear that the notice required under the law is separate from, and is not considered, “affirmative consent.”
  • Unlike BIPA, which explicitly requires a written release from the subject before obtaining his or her biometric identifier, H.B. 1493 broadly states that the exact notice and type of consent required to achieve compliance is “context-dependent.” The notice must be given through a procedure reasonably designed to be readily available to affected individuals.
  • A person who enrolls a biometric identifier for a commercial purpose or obtains a biometric identifier from a third party for a commercial purpose may not use or disclose it in a manner that is materially inconsistent with the terms under which the biometric identifier was originally provided without obtaining consent for the new use or disclosure.
  • Unless consent has been obtained, a person who has enrolled an individual's biometric identifier may not sell, lease or otherwise disclose the biometric identifier to another person for a commercial purpose unless one of certain enumerated statutory exceptions applies, including: (1) where necessary to provide a product or service requested by the individual; or (2) where disclosed to a third party who contractually promises that the biometric identifier will not be further disclosed and will not be enrolled in a database for a commercial purpose that is inconsistent with the notice and consent provided.

Importantly, unlike the Illinois and Texas statutes, H.B. 1493 contains a broad “security exception,” exempting those persons that collect, capture, enroll or store biometric identifiers in furtherance of a “security purpose.”

Similar to the Illinois and Texas statutes, H.B. 1493 also contains data security and retention requirements. In particular, the statute requires (1) reasonable care to guard against unauthorized access to and acquisition of biometric identifiers and (2) retention of biometric identifiers for no longer than necessary to comply with the law, protect against fraud, criminal activity, security threats or liability, or to provide the service for which the biometric identifier was enrolled.

As with the Texas biometric law, H.B. 1493 does not create a private right of action to allow for suits by individual plaintiffs. Instead, only the Washington Attorney General can enforce the requirements. The Illinois biometric law currently is the only state biometric statute that includes a private right of action.

Although Washington is only the third state to enact a biometric privacy law, several other states are considering similar legislation as the commercial collection and use of biometric identifiers becomes more commonplace.


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