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Judge rules Facebook can’t be sued in Illinois for ‘faceprint’ database


A federal judge in Illinois has dismissed a lawsuit challenging Facebook’s use of facial recognition software, according to a report in MediaPost.

U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Alonso ruled that Facebook can’t be sued in Illinois for its “faceprint” database because the company doesn’t have enough connections with the state.

In a ruling issued last Thursday, Alonso commented, “Because plaintiff does not allege that Facebook targets its alleged biometric collection activities at Illinois residents, the fact that its site is accessible to Illinois residents does not confer specific jurisdiction over Facebook.”

The decision is in response to a lawsuit filed last summer against Facebook by Frederick William Gullen who alleged that his photo was uploaded to Facebook by someone else, who then tagged the photo with Gullen’s name. Gullen’s complaint alleges that Facebook violates a 2008 Illinois biometric privacy law by using the photo to extract “data relating to the unique contours of his face and the distances between his eyes, nose and ears,” and then incorporated his faceprint to the company’s database.

The Illinois statute requires companies that gather biometric data to notify people about the practice before collecting data, and to publish a schedule for destroying the information.

In the 6-page opinion, Alonso said that Facebook didn’t take any actions in Illinois that would allow Gullen to bring his case in that state. “Facebook uses the tag suggestions and facial recognition software on all uploaded photos, not just those uploaded in or by residents of Illinois,” Alonso wrote. “Plaintiff does not, and could not plausibly, allege that Facebook knew an Illinois resident would upload a photo of him and tag his name to it, thereby (allegedly) giving Facebook access to plaintiff’s biometric information.”

Gullen is still free to bring his lawsuit in California, where Facebook is headquartered and is facing a separate lawsuit for allegedly violating the Illinois law.

In related news, a different judge in Illinois is allowing a lawsuit against Shutterfly Inc. to proceed despite the company’s claims that its tagging software does not violate the Illinois Biometric Privacy Act. U.S. District Court Judge Charles Norgle refused to dismiss that case, writing that there was “a strong interest in adjudicating the matter locally” given that Shutterfly offers photo-sharing and photo-printing services to Illinois residents, and is accused of violating an Illinois law.

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