On May 16, 2017, Governor Jay Inslee signed into law H.B. 1493—Washington’s first statute governing how individuals and non-government entities collect, use, and retain “biometric identifiers,” as defined in the statute. The law prohibits any “person” from “enroll[ing] a biometric identifier in a database for a commercial purpose, without first providing notice, obtaining consent, or providing a mechanism to prevent the subsequent use of a biometric identifier for a commercial purpose.” It also places restrictions on the sale, lease, and other disclosure of enrolled biometric identifiers. With the new law, Washington has become only the third state after Illinois and Texas to enact legislation that regulates business activities related to biometric information. Although the three laws seek to provide similar consumer protections around the collection, use, and retention of biometric data, the Washington law defines the content and activity it regulates in different terms, and, similar to Texas, but unlike Illinois, the Washington law does not provide a private right of action.
The Washington statute, as compared to existing biometrics laws, is notable for its definition of “biometric identifier.” In the law, a “biometric identifier” is “data generated by automatic measurements of an individual’s biological characteristics,” including “fingerprints, voiceprints, eye retinas, irises, or other unique biological patterns or characteristics that is used to identify a specific individual.” Washington’s definition of “biometric identifier” may be broader than that in the Texas statute, but Washington’s definition does not specifically provide for a “scan of hand or face geometry,” as is the case in the Illinois statute. Washington’s definition of “biometric identifiers” specifically excludes “physical or digital photograph, video or audio recording or data generated therefrom” (in addition to certain health-related data), suggesting the statute will have limited application in the context of facial recognition technology.
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