Op-Ed: Protect small businesses from an onslaught of BIPA lawsuits



As the controller at a prominent industrial finishing company based in Cicero, I’ve witnessed firsthand the challenges that Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) can impose on small businesses. While the intentions behind BIPA are commendable, its implementation has led to severe unintended consequences – particularly for small businesses like ours.

In 2019, our company found ourselves tied up in the middle of a BIPA lawsuit. A notice from an out-of-state attorney revealed we were being sued by an employee on leave on BIPA infractions. This was the first time our leadership, including myself, had even heard of BIPA.

Fortunately for us, the employee left the company, and we eventually reached a settlement. As any small business leader knows, every dollar counts, and legal fees are a significant hit. While we are thankful that our BIPA case didn’t amount to much in the end, this incident was a wake-up call. We overhauled our systems to ensure compliance with BIPA through employee consent and public policy postings – measures we were previously unaware were necessary.

Our experience with BIPA fortunately ended without crippling financial damage, but that is not typically the norm for others. Many small businesses in Illinois have been far less fortunate.

The aggressive pursuit of BIPA violations, often for minor administrative oversights like failing to provide adequate notice of biometric data usage, has become a lucrative business for trial lawyers. These firms often target small businesses that are less likely to be aware of the intricate requirements of BIPA, pushing them towards settlements to avoid the higher costs of litigation.

The financial costs associated with a BIPA lawsuit can be devastating for a small business. Potential fines can dismantle business operations, leading not only to financial strain but also to job losses and decreased economic activity.

The problem is not just the financial burden – though it is substantial – but the time and effort that navigating a complex legal environment demands. For many small businesses, a lawsuit like this is an unnecessary diversion from focusing on growth opportunities that would benefit employees and the community. When businesses are forced to spend time and resources on compliance and legal defense rather than on innovation and growth, the entire state and local economy suffers.

The current state of BIPA, while well-intentioned, fails to consider the realities faced by small businesses. Most BIPA violations involve no real harm to individuals; they stem from bureaucratic missteps, not malicious intent or negligence. The disconnect between the law’s harsh punishments and the nature of most infractions marks a dire need for reform. The law should protect individuals’ privacy without punishing businesses for innocent compliance mistakes.

Reforms would not weaken biometric privacy protections. Instead, they would ensure that the law does not disproportionately penalize our state’s small businesses, which are critical to the livelihood of our communities.

Legislation that supports individual privacy without creating an undue burden for business would foster a healthier, more robust economic environment in Illinois.

As someone deeply embedded in the day-to-day operations of an Illinois small business, I can attest to the need for our Springfield lawmakers to champion small businesses and call for legal reform. Let us strive for legal frameworks that uphold our values without undermining our economic foundations. It’s time for Illinois to lead the way with fair, balanced, and supportive legislation to restore justice to our justice system.

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