Whether it is facial recognition technology being used in connection with COVID-19 screening tools and in law enforcement, continued use of fingerprint-based time management systems, or the use of various biometric identifiers for physical security and access management, applications involving biometric identifiers and information in the public and private sectors continue to grow. Concerns about the privacy and security of that information continue to grow as well. Several states have laws protecting biometric information in one form or another, chief among them Illinois, but the desire for federal legislation remains.

Modeled after Illinois’s Biometric Information Privacy (BIPA), the National Biometric Information Privacy Act (Act), proposed by Sens. Jeff Merkley and Bernie Sanders, contains three key provisions:

  • A requirement to obtain consent from individual prior to collecting and disclosing their biometric identifiers and information.
  • A private right of action against entities covered by the Act that violate its protections which entitles aggrieved individuals to recover, among other things, the greater of (i) $1,000 in liquidated damages or (ii) actual damages, for negligent violations of the protections granted under the law.
  • An obligation to safeguard biometric identifier or biometric information in a manner similar to how the organization safeguards other confidential and sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers.

The Act would apply to “private entities,” generally including a business of any size in possession of biometric identifiers or biometric information of any individual. Federal, state, and local government agencies and academic institutions are excluded from the Act.

Under the Act, private entities would be required to:

  • Develop and make available to the public a written policy establishing a retention schedule and guidelines for permanently destroying biometric identifiers and biometric information. That schedule may not extend one year beyond an individual’s last interaction with the entity, but destruction could be required earlier;
  • Collect biometric identifiers or biometric information only when needed to provide a service to the individuals or have another valid business reason;
  • Inform individuals their biometric identifiers or biometric information is being collected or stored, along with the purpose and length of the collection, storage, or use, and must receive a written release from individuals which may not be combined with other consents, including an employment agreement;
  • Obtain a written release immediately prior to the disclosure of any biometric identifier or biometric information that includes the data to be disclosed, the reason for the disclosure, and the recipients of the data; and
  • Maintain the information using a reasonable standard of care.

Readers familiar with the BIPA in Illinois will find these requirements familiar. Readers familiar with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) will find the following “Right to Know” familiar as well. The Act would grant individuals the right to request certain information about biometric identifiers or biometric information collected by a covered entity within the preceding 12-month period. This information includes “specific pieces of personal information” and “the categories of third parties with whom the business shares the personal information.” The Act uses “personal information” but does not define it, leaving it unclear if it pertains only to biometric identifiers and biometric information.

Most troubling is the private right of action provision referenced above. The Act uses language similar to the language in the BIPA, which has led to a flood of class action litigation, including a decision by the IL Supreme Court finding plaintiffs need not show actual harm to recover under the law. The legislative process likely will result in some modification to the law, assuming it even survives, a fate privacy laws tend to have at the federal level. Nonetheless, we will continue to monitor the track of this and similar laws.

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP)…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Joe also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits practice group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Joe counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Joe’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Joe speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Joe served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.