New York City’s New Biometrics Privacy Law takes Effect

A new Biometrics Privacy Ordinance has been enacted across New York City, with new restrictions on what businesses can do with the biometric data they collect on their customers. From Friday, businesses that collect biometric data – mostly in the form of facial recognition and fingerprints – will have to post clear notices and signs to customers explaining how their data will be collected.

This ordinance applies to a wide range of businesses – to name a few – retailers, shops, restaurants, and theaters – which also prohibit them from selling, sharing, or otherwise profiting from the biometric data they collect. The move will give New York – and its millions of visitors – more protection about how their biometric data is collected and used, and also seeks to discourage businesses from using technology that is discriminatory and often does not work.

Businesses can face severe fines for violating the law, but they can be exempt from fines if the violation is resolved quickly. Laws are by no means perfect, as none of these laws ever are. For one, it does not apply to government agencies, including the police. Among the businesses that the ordinance covers, it exempts employees of businesses that require fingerprinting and hours off work. And the definition of what counts as biometric will probably face a challenge that could expand or narrow the covered subject.

After Portland, Oregon passed a similar ordinance last year, making New York the latest U.S. city to enact biometric privacy laws, the law, however, effectively maintains a lack of strong biometric privacy laws. Illinois has biometric data privacy laws, a law that grants residents the right to sue for the use of any biometric data without their consent.

Facebook settled for $650 million this year in a class-action lawsuit filed by Illinois residents in 2015 after the social networking giant used facial recognition to tag photos without their permission. Albert Fox Kahn, executive director of the New York-based Surveillance Technology Monitoring Project, said the law is an “important step” in learning how to follow New York locally.