Governor Inslee signs two biometrics bills into law

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Governor Jay Inslee signed two bills into law this week that put Washingon in a leadership position for protections related to the use of unique physical characteristics for identification.

WaTech's Alex Alben, the state's chief privacy officer, said the two pieces of legislation go a long way toward personal protection in both the workplace and home. Both he and agency Director Michael Cockrill testified before legislative committees during the regular session, saying they favored a broad approach for the safegaurds of biological data.

Governor Inslee signs the biometrics legislation in his office on May 16, with Chief Privacy Officer Alex Alben at right. From left are Reps. Zack Hudgins and Vandana Slatter, Inslee, House GOP Counsel Clay Hill and Rep. Norma Smith. (Washington State Legislature photo by Aaron Barna)

"With the signing of these two bills, Washington has put into place important protections for both citizens and consumers regarding the collection of highly personal identifiers relating to an individual's biology," Alben said. "Now, prior to collection of a biometric identifier, both notice and consent will be required.  I'm very happy that the legislature decided to act in this space, as the collection of data based on a person's biology will only increase as technology evolves."

Both bills have to do with the use of biometrics, such as fingerprints, which can be used for automated recognition. At the federal Department of  Homeland Security, for example, biometrics are used to detect and prevent illegal entry into the U.S., grant and administer proper immigration benefits, vetting and credentialing, facilitating legitimate travel and trade, enforcing federal laws, and enabling verification for visa applications to the U.S.

Alben, in an email, summed up the two bills this way:

HB 1493 establishes requirements of clear notice and consent before a company can collect a biometric identifier.  The definition of biometric is fairly broad, covering many different biological characteristics and systems.  A few other states have biometric collection laws, with Illinois and Texas being the most prominent.  This law may prevent a social media company from using an iris scan or heartbeat identifier, without user consent.  Unless consent is obtained, the biometric identifier may not be used for a commercial purpose.

HB 1717 requires state agencies to obtain consent before collecting, capturing, purchasing or otherwise obtaining biometric identifiers such as iris scans, facial geometry, fingerprints and DNA (photos, donated organ tissues, and health care info is excluded).  General law enforcement agencies are exempted with respect to fingerprints and DNA, as are limited law enforcement authority agencies  when acting in certain capacities akin to law enforcement or obtaining biological samples without consent.  In order to clarify this last provision, HB 2313 will be introduced in the House and Senate in this special session.

Representatives Jeff Morris of the state's 40th Legislative District and Norma Smith of the 10th Legislative Distsrict, among others, championed the legislation.

More information on privacy issues is available on WaTech's partner web site:


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