California: Speak up for student biometrics and privacy

California has proven to be a national leader in privacy protection. But there is still work to be done. That’s why the EFF is proud to sponsor two bills in this year’s legislature, both with co-sponsorship from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, that would strengthen privacy protections in the state. These bills focus on two particularly pernicious forms of data collection. Both will be heard on April 5 at the California Senate Judiciary Committee, and we ask Californians to tell committee members to pass these bills.

Advancing biometric privacy

Written by Senator Bob Wieckowski, SB 1189 requires private entities to obtain your consent before collecting your biometric information. Biometric information is incredibly sensitive and by its very nature is immutably tied to our identities. While you can change a password, you can’t easily change your face, the pace of your walk, or the ridges of your fingerprints. Despite this, some companies collect and share this information without asking first, such as taking facial fingerprints of every person who walks into a store. They can then share or sell this information.

It’s wrong. People should have control over who they trust with their biometric information. And companies must be held accountable if they break that trust. Like Illinois’ landmark Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), SB 1189 gives individuals the right to sue companies that violate the law. It’s the same type of provision that has allowed Facebook users in Illinois to blame the company for collecting their facial prints without permission. That case ended in a $650 million settlement for Facebook users in Illinois.

This bill has the support of a wide range of Californian and national organizations active on surveillance issues, which speaks to the importance of implementing this privacy protection. The Greenlining Institute, Media Alliance, Oakland Privacy, Consumer Federation of California, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Action and Fairplay are all in favor. If you want to join them in supporting this bill, take our steps to support SB 1189.

Take action

Speak out for biometric privacy in California

Student Privacy

The EFF is also proud to sponsor SB 1172, the Student Test Taker Privacy Protection Act (STTPPA), a first-of-its-kind bill aimed at curbing some of the worst practices of remote monitoring companies. Drafted by Senator Dr. Richard Pan, the bill places limits on what surveillance companies collect and offers students the right to be sued for breaches of privacy. There has been a 500% increase in the use of these monitoring tools during the pandemic. In 2020, more than half of higher education institutions used remote proctoring services and 23% planned to do so.

Surveillance companies have also suffered data breaches, and federal lawmakers and the California Supreme Court have raised questions about the monitoring of company practices. But no meaningful data protections have been put in place to protect applicants’ privacy. Given their widespread use, surveillance companies must be held accountable, and this bill will do just that.

The STTPPA directs surveillance companies not to collect, use, retain, or disclose applicants’ personal information except to the extent strictly necessary to provide surveillance services. If he fails to do so, the student has the option of taking the surveillance company to court. This simple bill gives those who are directly harmed by privacy breaches – applicants – the ability to protect their data and their privacy.

Leading student and privacy advocates have expressed their support for the bill, including: Center for Digital Democracy, Citizens Privacy Coalition of Santa Clara County (CPCSCC), Common Sense, Fairplay, The Greenlining Institute, The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, Media Alliance, and Oakland Privacy.

Take action

Speak out for California student privacy

If you think companies should have limits on the information they collect and people should have ways to hold them accountable, please tell the California Senate Judiciary Committee to vote “yes” on SB 1189 and SB 1172.

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