Court Grants Facebook's Request To Halt 'Faceprint' Battle

A federal appellate court has granted Facebook's "emergency" request to immediately halt trial proceedings over whether the company violated an Illinois biometrics privacy law.

In an order issued late Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to decide whether the case should proceed as a class-action. The order stayed all proceedings underway in front of U.S. District Court Judge James Donato in the Northern District of California.

The decision marks the latest twist in a lawsuit dating to 2015, when several Illinois residents sued the company for allegedly violating the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act by collecting "faceprints." That law, passed 10 years ago, requires companies to obtain written releases from people before collecting “face geometry” and other biometric data.

Donato ruled in April that the case could proceed as a class-action on behalf of all Facebook users in Illinois who had their faceprints stored by the company since 2011. Earlier this month, Facebook asked the 9th Circuit to review Donato's decision to allow the case to proceed as a class-action.

Late last week, Facebook filed an emergency motion asking the 9th Circuit to immediately stay the order requiring the company to use its platform to notify Illinois users about the proceedings. "Unless this Court intervenes immediately, tens of millions of Facebook users will receive class notice," Facebook said in its motion. "If the Court does not grant a stay by May 30, over 20 million people will receive class notice that may need to be retracted or modified substantially," the company wrote.

On Tuesday, hours before the appellate court issued the stay, Donato rejected Facebook's request to halt the proceedings to stay the proceedings. "The case is ripe for trial, and Facebook’s last-minute request to derail that is denied," Donato wrote in his order, which was effectively reversed by the 9th Circuit.

Earlier in the proceedings, Donato ruled against Facebook on several other key issues, including whether the Illinois law applies to the company's facial recognition technology. Facebook had argued that the Illinois law only covers faceprints derived from in-person scans. Donato rejected that interpretation, calling it "antithetical" to the law's "broad purpose of protecting privacy in the face of emerging biometric technology."

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