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Biometric Privacy Compliance Tips

Practical Compliance Tips: Portland Private-Sector Facial Recognition Ban

David J. Oberly |

The city of Portland, Oregon, made headlines last year when it became the first jurisdiction in the nation to enact a blanket ban on the use of facial recognition technology (“FRT”) by all private entities physically located within its city limits. While many cities have banned the use of face biometrics by law enforcement and parts of the public sector, the Portland ordinance is noteworthy because it drastically expanded the scope of this new type of regulation to also reach the private sector.

Since that time, the city of Baltimore, Maryland, followed suit with a similar private-sector facial biometrics ban of its own. More jurisdictions, including both cities and potentially states as well, are likely to add new laws mirroring those of Portland and Baltimore in the immediate future, especially as facial recognition continues to receive regular negative media coverage highlighting its claimed shortcomings, including potential accuracy and bias problems.

Combined, all companies that operate in Portland and use any type of software or other technology that may capture images of individuals’ faces should evaluate whether the new ordinance applies to them and, if so, take immediate action to ensure compliance with the law. And from a broader perspective, as this draconian type of biometric privacy regulation is likely expand to additional parts of the country moving forward, companies that use or intend to use any type of facial recognition technology need to familiarize themselves with this new type of biometrics regulation and consider taking proactive steps to minimize their anticipated liability exposure.

Overview

  • Scope/Applicability: The Portland ordinance bars the use of “facial recognition technologies” by “private entities” in “places of public accommodation” within the City of Portland.
  • “Private Entity”: The ordinance defines the term “private entity” in similar fashion to the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (“BIPA”) as “any individual, sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company, association, or any other legal entity, however organized.”
  • “Face Recognition Technologies”: Face recognition technologies means “automated or semi-automated processes using Face Recognition that assist in identifying, verifying, detecting, or characterizing facial features of an individual or capturing information about an individual based on an individual’s face.”
  • “Face Recognition”: Face recognition, in turn, is defined as “the automated searching for a reference image in an image repository by comparing the facial features of a probe image with the features of images contained in an image repository (one-to-many search).”
  • “Places of Public Accommodation”: “Places of public accommodation” is defined broadly to mean “[a]ny place or service offering to the public accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges whether in the nature of goods, services, lodgings, amusements, transportation or otherwise.”

Exemptions

  • Certain Places of Public Accommodation: Excluded from the scope of the ordinance are “institution[s], bona fide club[s], private residence[s], [and] place[s] of accommodation that [are] in [their] nature distinctly private.”
  • Legal Compliance: The ordinance does not apply to the use of FRT to the extent necessary to comply with federal, state, or local laws.
  • User Verification: The ordinance does not apply to the use of FRT for user verification purposes, but only in the narrow context of allowing an individual to access his or her individual or employer-issued communication or electronic device.
  • Automatic Face Detection: Finally, the ordinance does not apply to the use of FRT “[i]n automatic face detection services in social media applications.”

Core Compliance Requirement

  • Prohibition on FRT Use: Under the ordinance, private entities are barred from using face recognition technologies in places of public accommodation within city limits.

Enforcement and Remedies

  • Private Right of Action: Any person “injured” by a material violation of the ordinance may pursue class action against the offending private entity.
  • Recoverable Damages: A person injured by a violation of the ban can recover $1,000 per day for each day of the violation or actual damage sustained as a result of the violation, whichever is greater, as well as “such other remedies as may be appropriate.”
  • Attorneys’ Fees: Attorneys’ fees are also recoverable, but only if certain actions are taken by the injured person before filing suit. Specifically, a plaintiff must submit a written demand for the payment of a claim on the offending private entity and its insurer (if known to the plaintiff) at least 30 days before the filing of the complaint. Where this is completed, a court may award to a prevailing plaintiff a “reasonable amount” of attorneys’ fees. Conversely, a plaintiff cannot recover attorneys’ fees if, before suit was filed, the offending private entity tendered to the plaintiff an amount that is at least equivalent to the damages awarded to the plaintiff in the litigation, exclusive of any costs, interest, and prevailing party fees.

Practical Compliance Tips & Best Practices

For companies operating in Portland, immediate action should be taken if not already done so to ensure compliance with the city’s FRT ban. Companies should consider the following action steps to determine the applicability of the ban to their operations and to come into compliance with the Portland ordinance if the organization falls under the scope of the law:

  • Determine Whether Technology Falls under Scope of Law: First, companies should determine if their technology falls under the scope of the law. To do so, the system must engage in identifying, verifying, detecting, or characterizing facial features or capture information about an individual based on his or her facial features.
  • Evaluate Applicability of Exceptions to Ban: If the technology is found to fall under the scope of the ban, the next step is to evaluate whether any of the limited exemptions offered by the ordinance can be satisfied to allow the company to continue its use of the technology.
  • Cease All Use of FRT If No Exceptions Apply: If none of the exceptions apply, the company must immediately cease all use of its FRT technology.
  • Identify Availability of Any Suitable Alternative Technologies: At the same time, companies that are no longer permitted to use their current FRT technology should evaluate whether any alternative technologies can be implemented to accomplish the same objectives—such as identification, verification/authentication, or security—for which facial recognition was used.

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