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Google Wins Facial Recognition Lawsuit

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Google did not violate privacy laws by creating face templates of people who uploaded their photos to the company's cloud service, a federal judge ruled.

In Rivera v. Google, Inc., the plaintiffs sued under a unique law that allows individuals to sue for collection of their biometric data. The Illinois law was also the first state statute to regulate the practice.

The problem, the judge said, was that the Fourth Amendment doesn't really recognize an expectation of privacy in a person's face.

No Expectation of Privacy

In the proposed class-action, lead plaintiff Lindabeth Rivera alleged that her friend's Android device automatically uploaded her photo to Google's cloud service. Then, she says, Google Photos scanned her facial features to create a face template.

Rivera accused the company of violating the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. Judge Edmond Chang refused Google's motion to dismiss the case last year, but then ruled for the company on summary judgment.

"Plaintiffs do not offer evidence to dispute that their faces are public -- just that their facial biometrics are," the judge said. "This is consistent with Fourth Amendment case law that rejects an expectation of privacy in a person's face."

Chang also said the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue based solely on the company's retention of private information. He said Google did not intrude on their privacy by receiving photographs voluntarily uploaded to Google Photos.

Biometric Privacy Rising?

Early in 2018, biometric privacy lawsuits were on the rise. After Illinois enacted its law, other states followed with similar statutes.

Texas and Washington, for example, passed laws that proscribe the unauthorized collection, sharing and sale of biometric data. However, unlike Illinois, those laws do not include a private right-of-action.

If the Illinois plaintiffs appeal to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, it could be a game-changer in the emerging field.

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