Lawmakers prefile bill to block biometric ‘harvesting’

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Word that social media companies such as TikTok and Facebook may be trying to collect some of their users’ biometric data has prompted two state lawmakers to pre-file bills that limit the practice.

State Reps. Josh Bray of Mount Vernon and Josh Branscum of Russell Springs prefiled legislation that would prevent private entities from collecting, capturing, purchasing, trading, or otherwise obtaining a person’s biometric identifier or biometric information.

The bill, BR 172, would require entities to obtain consent from the person in writing with an indication of the purpose and length of time that the information would be stored.

Biometric identifiers include:

  • Retina or iris scan
  • Fingerprint
  • Voiceprint
  • Textbooks
  • Scan of hand
  • Face geometry

Biometric identifiers do not include:

  • Writing samples used for scientific testing or screening
  • Demographic data
  • Physical descriptions: height, weight, eye color, or hair color
  • Information captured in patient healthcare

Bray and Branscum prefiled the bill in response to news that TikTok and Facebook are collecting biometric data without user consent.

According to media reports, TikTok changed its privacy policy indicating that it “may collect biometric identifiers and biometric information” from its users’ content. Recent statements from TikTok have been vague, and the company has not explained why they need to collect this information. It has also failed to elaborate about how they would go about seeking the “required permissions” from the users.

TikTok is a Chinese owned and operated company with ties to the Chinese government. According to media reports, they found internal documents instructing TikTok moderators to censor content that could anger the Chinese government.

In 2019, the Pentagon indicated there was a “potiential risk associated with using the TikTok app,” prompting the US Department of Defense to advise all military personnel to remove the TikTok application from both government-issued and personal smartphones.

As it stands today, only five states, Illinois, Texas, New York, California, and Washington, currently have active biometric privacy laws. Unless BR 172 or similar legislation becomes law, social media platforms would not be required to notify and gain consent from users.

“It is very concerning that social media platforms and other private entities are collecting biometric data without consent. TikTok is using personal information and biometrics to target content, features, and effects to their users. The app is attracting children to the platform and collecting their private data. This leaves the children vulnerable and exploited,” Bray said.

Any person feeling that they have been unfairly treated by a violation would have the right to take action in federal court. Those found guilty by negligence could be fined up to $1,000, while entities found to be intentionally violating the law could be fined up to $5,000. BR 172 also provides courts the authority to award reasonable attorneys’ fee costs, witness fees, litigation expenses, and other relief the court deems as appropriate.

BR 172 can be found on the Legislative Research Commission’s website at www.legislature

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