SnapChat is the latest tech company to be sued under a biometric privacy law in the state of Illinois.
Two Illinois residents, Jose Luis Martinez and Malcom Neal, filed the lawsuit against SnapChat, claiming that the company is violating the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act.
The plaintiffs claim that the Lenses feature on SnapChat records and stores people’s facial features without their approval. According to SnapChat, the lawsuit is frivolous and the company does not record or store any biometric information that can be used to identify people by their facial features.
According to the lawsuit, SnapChat has created and stored tens of thousands of detailed face maps and templates on people who live in the state of Illinois. However, SnapChat denies the allegations listed in the suit.
The lawsuit was originally filed in Los Angeles County Court in May, but was moved to a federal court in July. The plaintiff’s attorney is seeking a class-action status for the civil suit.
If SnapChat is found to have intentionally violated the Illinois law, they could face fines of $5,000 per violation. If SnapChat is found to have violated the law through negligence, the fines would be $1,000 per violation.
The Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act was originally introduced in the state legislature in 2008 as a way to protect people from having their eye scans, facial features, voice scans, facial geometry and fingerprints misused by people and organizations. There is currently a proposal to revise the Illinois law so that it does not include digital or printed photos as “biometric information.”
Tech companies like Google and Facebook have both lobbied Illinois state lawmakers for the change to the current law. However, the proposed change is currently on hold in the legislature. Google and Facebook are also facing lawsuits in Illinois over their use of facial recognition technology in their photo tagging programs.
The popular Lenses feature allows people to overlay various special effects onto the face pics that they share on SnapChat. According to SnapChat, the Lenses feature only recognizes objects and outlines facial areas where a user wants to place a special effect; the technology is not a facial recognition system that can identify people based on their individual facial characteristics.
Object recognition is different from facial recognition. Object recognition can recognize if something is a nose, a mouth or eyes, but it does not use unique facial features to recognize individual people. SnapChat Lenses can recognize what a face is, but it cannot identify a specific person by their face.
Some critics of biometric privacy laws like the one in Illinois say that these laws are too broad and have a chilling effect on the advancement of consumer technology. However, privacy and civil rights advocates generally support strict biometric privacy laws to protect people from prying personal identification technology.
Facial recognition technology is largely unregulated in the United States. Illinois and Texas are the only two states that regulate how people’s biometric information can be collected, stored and used.