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Washington state House approves bill to protect consumers’ biometric data


The Washington state House has approved a bill by Rep. Jeff Morris to protect consumers’ biometric data.

The House of Representatives recently voted 81-17 to pass the consumer protection bill that would forbid businesses from obtaining or selling biometric information from individuals without their consent. The bill now goes to the state Senate where a similar bill died last year.

Morris said laws on biometrics are needed now to head off future problems. “It’s important to get these rules in place before the horse gets out of the barn.”

“It is an emerging field,” added Rep. Mark Harmsworth, a co-sponsor of the bill. “Biometrics are not like credit cards or other identification numbers. They are unique to us.”

According to a House staff memo, Morris’ bill would prohibit the sale, lease or disclosure of a biometric identifier for commercial use if certain criteria are not met. Those criteria include whether biometric information is actually needed for a transaction, and if the need for biometric information is spelled out in state or federal law. The bill would also make putting biometric identifiers into a database illegal without the person’s consent. And the bill would lay out rules governing access to and retention of biometric identifiers.

The Washington Technology Industry Association, the Computing Technology Association, the Washington Retail Association, the Association of Washington Business and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs opposed the bill in a hearing earlier this year.

According to Geekwire, bill opponents have argued that biometrics are important for security purposes. Some supported collecting data without restrictions. Some argued current laws already offer protections, and that some definitions in Morris’ bill need to be clarified. Use of biometrics by law enforcement is not a commercial use, some said. Some argued to exempt video surveillance and photos from the bill’s reach. And some argued that regulation should proceed cautiously because biometrics is an emerging industry.

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