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Illinois lawmaker proposes changes to the state’s biometric privacy law

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(The Center Square) – An Illinois lawmaker wants to put an end to the flood of lawsuits against businesses as the result of the state’s strict biometric law.

State Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, has filed Senate Bill 2979 which would make changes to the liability guidelines in the Biometric Information Privacy Act.

Under BIPA, private entities must obtain written consent before collecting and storing biometric information, such as an employee’s fingerprint. If a business is sued for violating BIPA, they can be ordered to pay damages for each instance where biometric information is collected.

“You check into work in the morning, that’s one, check out for lunch that’s two, check back in from lunch that’s three, check out from work, that’s four, and it’s five-thousand dollars potentially per violation,” said Phil Melin, executive director of Illinois Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. “That adds up real quickly.”

The Illinois Supreme Court upheld the “per-scan” damages in a lawsuit against White Castle, but noted that the technicality could be damaging for Illinois businesses. The high court also said it “appears the General Assembly chose to make damages discretionary rather than mandatory under the Act.”

Since that ruling, there has been a flurry of lawsuits against Illinois businesses.

“It’s kind of the wild, wild west and potentially it can crush these employers or these companies and right now they are kind of exploiting the system,” said attorney Jerry Maatman, chair of the Duane Morris Class Action Defense Team.

Cunningham’s bill would limit the number of claims accrued under that scenario should an employee bring a lawsuit against a company for a violation of BIPA. If a certain biometric identifier is collected by the same employer in the same manner, only one violation would accrue.

The measure would also modernize the manner in which written consent can be granted to include the use of electronic signatures.

“SB 2979 will keep the current privacy restrictions in place and hold violators accountable, as well as ensure businesses are not unfairly punished for technical violations of the law,” Cunningham said in a statement.

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