Handing a preliminary defeat to Amazon, a federal judge rejected the company's bid to pause claims it violates an Illinois privacy law by allowing online learning company ProctorU to use Rekognition facial-recognition technology to verify students' identities.
In a ruling issued Monday, U.S. District Court Judge John Chun in Seattle said the student who sued the company can proceed with discovery, referring to the process of obtaining evidence from Amazon.
Amazon had urged Chun to stay the discovery until he ruled on the company's request to dismiss the lawsuit altogether.
Chun declined to do so, writing that he “is not convinced” Amazon will prevail on its request for an early dismissal.
The move comes in a lawsuit dating to March, when Illinois resident Jacinda Dorian alleged in a class-action complaint that Amazon was violating the state's Biometric Information Privacy Act, which requires companies to obtain people's written permission before compiling a database of their faceprints.
She alleged that beginning in 2017, while a college student in Chicago, she was required to show her face and an ID on her computer's camera, in order to use Proctor U's software to take tests. Proctor U uploaded the image to Amazon Web Services, which deployed Rekognition facial recognition technology on the image, according to her complaint.
She says she never received consented to Amazon's alleged collection and storage of her biometric data.
In May, Amazon urged Chun to dismiss the case immediately. The company contended that even if Dorian's allegations were proven true, they wouldn't show that Amazon violated the Illinois law.
Amazon raised several arguments, including that the allegations would establish only that it was a “back-end service provider,” and not a company that collected or possessed Dorian's data.
Amazon also said the Illinois law doesn't apply to activity in other states, and that the complaint doesn't allege that Amazon engaged in any conduct in Illinois.
Last month, Amazon asked Chun to stay discovery until after he decided whether the Dorian could proceed with her claims. The company argued that the stay would conserve resources.
Chun denied that motion on Monday.
“The court is not convinced that defendant’s motion to dismiss will prevail and, accordingly, dispose of the case,” he wrote, adding that other federal judges in Seattle had allowed complaints with similar allegations against Amazon and Microsoft to proceed.
“The court notes that numerous actions have been filed in this district and others challenging the collection of biometric information ... and the defendants in those cases made similar arguments at the motion to dismiss phase that were rejected.”
Chun also said some of the issues raised by Amazon, such as whether any of the alleged activity took place within Illinois, “appear to require fact-based analyses that discovery would inform.”
Amazon has not yet responded to a request for comment.