Johner T. Wilson III, Member of the Firm in the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice, in the firm’s Chicago office, was featured on CBS News Chicago segment, “Illinois Legislation Would Limit Damages Companies Must Pay for Biometric Privacy Violations,” with Megan Hickey.

Following is an excerpt:

Target was just hit with a class-action lawsuit from Illinois shoppers, who say the retail giant used high-tech cameras to collect face scans of its customers – so as to help identify potential shoplifters.

The lawsuit comes just as important changes to the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) are about to go into effect. The amendment to the act (SB2979) got the green light in Springfield and is set to be signed by Gov. JB Pritzker.

The new amendment limits damages that companies have to pay, which was sorely needed, according to the local business community.

Two Homewood Target shoppers and one Chicago Target shopper are the named plaintiffs in the federal class action lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, in the Northern District of Illinois.

The suit alleges that high tech facial recognition-enabled cameras that the chain uses to try to combat shoplifting are violating the state's Biometric Privacy Act. They're asking for $5,000 for every "intentional violation" when a shopper's face was captured on camera without proper consent.

Roughly 2,000 similar lawsuits have been filed in recent years, resulting several high-profile payouts. These include a $650 million suit against Facebook, and a case against White Castle that resulted in $1 billion in damages.

"Some of these lawsuits, and the damages that are assessed in them, realistically bankrupt companies - and I don't think that was the intent of the statute," said attorney J.T. Wilson III of the firm Epstein Becker Green.

Wilson is not affiliated with the cases, but has represented other defendants in BIPA-related complaints… 

"What makes Illinois' statute so unique and different is that it gives the private right of action," said Wilson.

Wilson explained that until the amendment to Illinois' BIPA law is signed by Gov. Pritzker, defendants can be fined for every single time a camera captured a plaintiff's picture – or every time a plaintiff was required to use a fingerprint to log into a system without the proper consents. 

"So if they do that four times a day, that's four separate incidents," said Wilson. "Under the new amendment, it will be per person."

Lawmakers behind the change said the massive financial damages had a chilling effect on security, innovation, and economic growth for Illinois businesses.

Wilson said he thinks the change will help balance the needs of businesses and consumers in Illinois.

"We cannot replace our biometric identifiers," said Wilson, "so it is very important that we safeguard that information."

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