Labor & Employment Law Daily Senators Merkley and Sanders introduce the National Biometric Privacy Act of 2020
Friday, August 7, 2020

Senators Merkley and Sanders introduce the National Biometric Privacy Act of 2020

By WK Editorial Staff

Modeled on the Illinois privacy statute, the bill comes after a federal study raised alarms about the potentially discriminatory effects of facial recognition technology.

On August 4, U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) announced that he and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced the National Biometric Information Privacy Act of 2020 which would prohibit private companies from collecting biometric data from consumers and employees without written consent.

“Big brother”? “We can’t let companies scoop up or profit from people’s faces and fingerprints without their consent,” said Merkley in a press release. “We have to fight against a ‘big brother’ surveillance state that eradicates our privacy and our control of our own information, be it a threat from the government or from private companies.”

The Act would impose several requirements on private entities, including:

  • “Valid business reason.” The measure would allow the collection of biometric data only when needed to provide a service to an individual or for another valid business reason.
  • Retention schedule. The bill would require any private entity in possession of biometric identifiers, such as eye scans, voiceprints, faceprints, and fingerprints, to develop and publish a policy establishing a data retention schedule and guidelines for destroying biometric data.
  • Right to know. The bill’s “Right to Know” provision would require any private company “that collects, uses, shares, or sells biometric identifiers or biometric information” to disclose to any inquiring individual, free of charge, any information related to the individual that the company has collected in the preceding 12 months.
  • Release. Covered entities would be required to obtain a written release, which includes the type of information to be disclosed, the purpose of the disclosure, and the recipients of the data prior to disclosure.

Private right of action. Individuals who have been aggrieved by a violation of the Act would be entitled to recover the greater of $1,000 in liquidated damages or actual damages for negligent violation of the Act.

Support. The bill already has received praise from civil liberties and privacy advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Fight for the Future, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Open Technology Institute.

“Biometric identifiers are uniquely sensitive pieces of information that can be used to track who we are and where we go. Importantly, this bill ensures that companies cannot collect and use these identifiers without strong privacy safeguards. It pairs these safeguards with strong enforcement, allowing consumers to take companies who violate these standards to court,” said Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU’s Senior Legislative Counsel.

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