Sen. Merkley Introduces Bill Limiting Corporate Use of Biometrics

According to a press release posted by Sen. Jeff Merkley’s (D-Ore.) office on Tuesday, he and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have introduced a bill that would “ban private companies from harvesting or profiting from consumers and employees’ biometric data without permission.”

The “National Biometric Information Privacy Act of 2020” would prevent private companies from collecting individuals’ biometric information, such as eye scans, faceprints, fingerprints, and voiceprints. In addition to limits on data collection, the bill would limit the purchase, sale, lease, trade, and retention of biometric data absent written consent.

Under the proposed bill, companies would also have to disclose what information they collected on an individual, if queried. The proposed legislation would enable individuals and state attorneys general to bring suits for non-compliance.

In a statement, Merkley said, “[w]e can’t let companies scoop up or profit from people’s faces and fingerprints without their consent.” He resisted the idea of a “‘big brother’ surveillance state that eradicates our privacy and our control of our own information,” whether by the government or private companies. Sen. Sanders also commented in a statement, contending that “[w]e cannot allow Orwellian facial recognition technology to continue to violate the privacy and civil liberties of the American people.”

The legislative announcement follows rising concern of biometric data collection by private enterprises, including use of facial recognition technology. That technology has particular implications in the law enforcement sphere, chiefly, misidentification problems that disparately impact “communities of color.” Merkley and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced the Ethical Use of Facial Recognition Act earlier this year, intended to safeguard individual privacy rights by imposing a moratorium “on all federal governmental use of the technology until Congress passes legislation outlining specific uses for the data.”

Merkley, a “leader[] at the intersection of privacy rights, racial justice, and emerging technologies,” has also scrutinized private entities like CLEAR and major car manufacturers, questioning their collection and use of biometric data, according to the press release.