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Employees saying no to biometric timekeepers

Consumers might be the biggest class of people suffering the loss of control of their biometric data to governments and businesses, but employees are perhaps the most visible group opposing it.

This is true in multiple Indian states and the U.S. state of Illinois.

Leaders of Andhra Pradesh, for example, have begun the year saying they want 100 percent compliance with a new employee biometric attendance system referred to as attendance by photography.

All government personnel in state and district offices have to use their phone cameras to certify when they started their workday and when they left work. There is a widespread perception among Indian government managers that their employees do not work the hours they claim.

As might be expected, not all government workers appreciate the move.

Government doctors in the state of Jharkhand chose December 31 to boycott a biometric attendance system that they claim is flawed. The software is paying some doctors at erroneous rates, for example, and those protesting said they would only sign in manually until the system is fixed.

And in a third state, Maharashtra, research students, many of whom work on government projects, also protested biometric attendance systems they are now required to use. This is not the only objectionable condition the students face. They say they need chairs in the library and adequate water.

In all of these cases, opponents are hamstrung in how far they can take their complaints. The ability to sue state and center governments is far from an absolute.

Nor do they have a national law protecting digital personal data. Legislation is moving along, but even in that case, there are provisions some find troubling.

It seems lawmakers favor a system in which so-called data stewards negotiate with those wanting to use biometric information on behalf of the people who actually own it.

The United States lacks legislation even likely to be signed, but, at least in Illinois there is the Biometric Information Protection Act, which requires data collectors to act more as a partner with identifier owners.

Many plaintiffs have been employees who are forced to submit finger or face prints upon starting and leaving work.

At this point, it is difficult to see who, beyond the attorneys, is happy with BIPA. Vendors and their customers definitely dislike the law because losing a case can mean payouts in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Successful plaintiffs individually get meager awards compared to the unique value of their biometric data. And they must live knowing that their data remains online, ripe for the taking.

Microsoft is caught in a BIPA case and appears capable of knocking away aspects of the plaintiffs’ case. A federal judge in Illinois this week was able to get rid of a couple claims in a case where it is accused of breaking BIPA when it stored the biometric data of a customer’s employees.

The lack of a direct relationship between the plaintiff and Microsoft excuses it from a written consent requirement, and a data disclosure rule does not apply because the company is not alleged to have disseminated the plaintiff’s biometrics.

Overall victory is anything but assured.

That is the case as well for new proposed class actions against employers alleging violations of BIPA. The Cook County (Ill.) Record, which reports on local legal news, says recent defendants include a subsidiary of tractor-maker Caterpillar.

HID Global, which makes identity systems, also has been singled out in court. It sells its timekeeping and access control management services to employers in Illinois. As such, it handles biometric data, and, according to plaintiffs in a putative class action, HID violated BIPA. Consumers might be the biggest class of people suffering the loss of control of their biometric data to governments and businesses, but employees are perhaps the most visible group opposing it.

This is true in multiple Indian states and the U.S. state of Illinois.

Leaders of Andhra Pradesh, for example, have begun the year saying they want 100 percent compliance with a new employee biometric attendance system referred to as attendance by photography.

All government personnel in state and district offices have to use their phone cameras to certify when they started their workday and when they left work. There is a widespread perception among Indian government managers that their employees do not work the hours they claim.

As might be expected, not all government workers appreciate the move.

Government doctors in the state of Jharkhand chose December 31 to boycott a biometric attendance system that they claim is flawed. The software is paying some doctors at erroneous rates, for example, and those protesting said they would only sign in manually until the system is fixed.

And in a third state, Maharashtra, research students, many of whom work on government projects, also protested biometric attendance systems they are now required to use. This is not the only objectionable condition the students face. They say they need chairs in the library and adequate water.

In all of these cases, opponents are hamstrung in how far they can take their complaints. The ability to sue state and center governments is far from an absolute.

Nor do they have a national law protecting digital personal data. Legislation is moving along, but even in that case, there are provisions some find troubling.

It seems lawmakers favor a system in which so-called data stewards negotiate with those wanting to use biometric information on behalf of the people who actually own it.

The United States lacks legislation even likely to be signed, but, at least in Illinois there is the Biometric Information Protection Act, which requires data collectors to act more as a partner with identifier owners.

Many plaintiffs have been employees who are forced to submit finger or face prints upon starting and leaving work.

At this point, it is difficult to see who, beyond the attorneys, is happy with BIPA. Vendors and their customers definitely dislike the law because losing a case can mean payouts in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Successful plaintiffs individually get meager awards compared to the unique value of their biometric data. And they must live knowing that their data remains online, ripe for the taking.

Microsoft is caught in a BIPA case and appears capable of knocking away aspects of the plaintiffs’ case. A federal judge in Illinois this week was able to get rid of a couple claims in a case where it is accused of breaking BIPA when it stored the biometric data of a customer’s employees.

The lack of a direct relationship between the plaintiff and Microsoft excuses it from a written consent requirement, and a data disclosure rule does not apply because the company is not alleged to have disseminated the plaintiff’s biometrics.

Overall victory is anything but assured.

That is the case as well for new proposed class actions against employers alleging violations of BIPA. The Cook County (Ill.) Record, which reports on local legal news, says recent defendants include a subsidiary of tractor-maker Caterpillar.

HID Global, which makes identity systems, also has been singled out in court. It sells its timekeeping and access control management services to employers in Illinois. As such, it handles biometric data, and, according to plaintiffs in a putative class action, HID violated BIPA.  Read More   

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