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Jury finds BNSF Railway guilty of violating Illinois Biometric Privacy Act

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CHICAGO (CBS) -- Railroad giant BNSF has been found guilty of violating the privacy of 45,000 drivers.

In U.S. District Court in Chicago Wednesday, a jury awarded a $228 million verdict to the truck drivers who filed a class-action suit. BNSF was found guilty of violating Illinois the Biometric Privacy Act (BIPA).

The state law basically says you can collect iris scans, fingerprints, voiceprints, facial geometry scans, but you have to get written consent to do so.

The Rogers v. BNSF Railway Company lawsuit accused BNSF of using a fingerprint system that allowed drivers to access railyards for pickups and drop-offs, but did not obtain written consent from drivers that complied with BIPA requirements, according to a news release from the law firm Honigman LLP.

The jury determined BNSF violated BIPA 45,600 times and entered a verdict of $228 million – awarding the maximum of a $5,000 penalty per occurrence, according to the law firm.

"The jury rejected all of the railroad's defenses. The railroad tried to say, 'We didn't violate the law.' They tried to say it was somebody else's fault. They put on a defense for a week," said attorney Jon Loevy. "But the jury took one hour to return a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs' class."

Also since the biometric privacy law passed, Facebook was also saddled with a $650 million settlement for its "face templates."

TikTok was ordered to pay $93 million for their facial recognition software. Snapchat had to pay $35 million to Illinois residents for their "lenses" and "filters."

And just recently, Google was ordered by a Cook County judge to pay $100 million for their "face grouping tool" and 14 years later, businesses in Illinois are still violating this law.

There's been pushback from lawmakers who have tried, so far unsuccessfully, to repeal the law. Many believe it is too strict. And it's true, Illinois' biometric protections are the tightest in the country.

The state of Maine was actually very close to passing a law recently that would mirror Illinois' but it did not pass so as it stands, Illinois is the only state in the country with this kind of a biometric privacy law on the books.

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