Washington Joins Growing List of States with Laws Protecting Biometric Information
Not to be outdone by the recent attention to biometric information in Illinois, and the Prairie State’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), Washington enacted a biometric data protection statute of its own, HB 1493, which became effective July 23, 2017.
What it notable about Washington’s new biometric information law?
It prohibits “persons” from “enrolling” “biometric identifiers” in a database for a “commercial purpose” without first providing notice, obtaining consent, or providing a mechanism to prevent the subsequent use of the biometric identifiers for a commercial purpose. Lots of definitions, more on that below.
The exact type of notice and consent should depend on the context, and notice must be given through a procedure reasonably designed to be readably available to affected individuals. Note that the law does not require notice and consent if the person collects, captures, or enrolls a biometric identifier and stores it in a biometric system, or otherwise, in furtherance of a security purpose.
In general, a person that has obtained a biometric identifier from an individual and enrolled that identifier may not sell, lease or otherwise disclose the identifier absent consent. There are, of course, some exceptions, such as the disclosure being necessary to provide a product requested by the individual. In addition, a person generally may not use or disclose a biometric identifier for a purpose that is materially inconsistent with the terms under which the identifier was originally provided.
Persons that possess biometric identifiers of individuals that have been enrolled for a commercial purpose must (i) have reasonable safeguards to protect against unauthorized access or acquisition to the identifiers, and (ii) not retain the identifiers for longer than is necessary to carry out certain functions, such as providing the product for which the identifier was acquired.
There is no private right of action under the new Washington law. It is to be enforced by the state’s Attorney General. Remember that Illinois’ BIPA does permit persons to sue for violations of that law.
To understand how the law applies, one needs to review the defined terms. For example, the term “biometric identifiers” means:
data generated by automatic measurements of an individual’s biological characteristics, such as a fingerprint, voiceprint, eye retinas, irises, or other unique biological patterns or characteristics that is used to identify a specific individual. “Biometric identifier” does not include a physical or digital photograph, video or audio recording or data generated therefrom, or information collected, used, or stored for health care treatment, payment, or operations under the federal health insurance portability and accountability act of 1996.
The law also defines “commercial purpose” to mean:
a purpose in furtherance of the sale or disclosure to a third party of a biometric identifier for the purpose of marketing of goods or services when such goods or services are unrelated to the initial transaction in which a person first gains possession of an individual’s biometric identifier.
And, the term “enroll” means
to capture a biometric identifier of an individual, convert it into a reference template that cannot be reconstructed into the original output image, and store it in a database that matches the biometric identifier to a specific individual.
The use of biometrics and biometric identifiers in commercial transactions and for other purposes is growing, and so is the number of state laws intending to protect that kind of data. Businesses that use or disclose biometrics in carrying out their business should carefully consider whether this new state law applies and, if so, what they need to do to comply.