First Amendment Trumps Biometric Privacy Law, Amazon Says

Amazon intends to defend itself against claims that it violated an Illinois biometric privacy statute by arguing that the law is unconstitutional.

That's according to documents Amazon filed with U.S. District Court Judge James Robart in Seattle late last month.

The tech company outlined numerous planned defenses to the claims, including that an unfavorable verdict would effectively “abridge Amazon’s freedom of speech, in violation of the First Amendment.”

The company's papers come in a lawsuit brought against the company last July by Illinois residents Steven Vance and Tim Janecyk.

They alleged that Amazon (and Microsoft, among other companies) obtained a faceprint database from IBM, which reportedly acquired 100 million pictures from the photo-sharing service Flickr.

Amazon allegedly acquired the database in order to improve its facial-recognition products and technologies.

Vance and Janecyk contend that Amazon violated the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, which requires companies to obtain consumers' written consent before collecting or storing their biometric data -- including scans of facial geometry.

Amazon hasn't yet spelled out its First Amendment argument, but it's hardly the only company to argue that free speech principles should override privacy regulations.

Facial recognition company Clearview AI, which faces litigation for allegedly violating the Illinois privacy law, also says the state law is invalid under the First Amendment.

Clearview allegedly scraped billions of photos from Twitter, Facebook and other companies, used technology to create a faceprint database, then sold that database to police departments (as well as other agencies and private companies).

The facial recognition company argued to U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Johnson in the Northern District of Illinois that it has a First Amendment right to collect and use “public photographs” that appear online.

Specifically, the company said in papers filed late last month that restrictions on its use of biometric information hinders its right to gather, analyze and disseminate “truthful and constitutionally-protected information.”

Broadband carriers have raised a somewhat similar argument in a lawsuit challenging a Maine privacy law that prohibits internet access providers from “using, disclosing, selling or permitting access to customer personal information” without subscribers' explicit consent.

Lobbying groups for the broadband industry argue the law should be struck down on several grounds, including that it restricts their First Amendment right to access information.

Last July, U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker declined to immediately block the law, but said the broadband providers might be able to prevail at a later date, after they developed more evidence to support their case.

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