Appeals court rules Facebook must face class-action lawsuit over facial recognition

Appeals court rules Facebook must face class-action lawsuit over facial recognition
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Facebook has to face a class-action lawsuit over whether it violated user privacy with its facial recognition tools, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

The three-judge panel agreed that Facebook can be sued under an Illinois law that requires businesses to obtain consent before using people's biometric information, including their fingerprints or face scans.

The plaintiffs in the case have argued that Facebook violated the Illinois law — the most expansive of its kind in the country — when the company instituted "Tag Suggestions" without their explicit consent in 2010. Facebook's "Tag Suggestions" uses facial recognition technology to suggest which users might be in the photo.

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Circuit Court Judge Sandra Ikuta ruled against Facebook's claims that the plaintiffs had failed to adequately prove they had been harmed by the face scanning.

"We conclude that the development of a face template using facial-recognition technology without consent (as alleged here) invades an individual’s private affairs and concrete interests," she wrote.

“We plan to seek further review of the decision," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill. "We have always disclosed our use of face recognition technology and that people can turn it on or off at any time.”

The decision comes on the heels of a ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court, which dictated that plaintiffs don't need to prove "actual" harm before suing a company under the Illinois biometrics law.

The three plaintiffs in the 9th Circuit case have alleged that Facebook improperly collects, stores and shares the biometric data. They are seeking damages of up to $5,000 per the potential millions of violations in Illinois.

"This decision is a strong recognition of the dangers of unfettered use of face surveillance technology,” Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.

"The capability to instantaneously identify and track people based on their faces raises chilling potential for privacy violations at an unprecedented scale," he added.

--Updated at 4:13 p.m.