RIGHT TO PRIVACY: MEXICO SUES META

WHAT ARE THE DETAILS?

The Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton, has gone all the way and sued Meta for collecting and commercially using the ‘biometric data’ or ‘biometric identifiers’ of the people of Texas, without their informed consent.[1] Meta has been accused of violating the Texan state law relating to the biometric data of its residents. The ‘Capture and Use of Biometric Identifier’ law deals with the collection and commercial usage of people’s biometric data without their informed and explicit consent[2]. The company is said to be collecting and disclosing these biometric identifiers, that is, voiceprint, retina or iris prints, fingerprints, handprints, records of facial or hand geometry for profits. It has also been sued under Texas’ general deceptive trade practices law. This is the first time that the CUBI (Capture and Use of Biometric Identifier) law has been enforced ever since it was passed.

The Attorney General has the authority to seek a fine of up to $25,000 for each violation. Therefore, Texas has asked for the maximum fine available, which is $25,000, for each violation related to CUBI and $10,000 for each violation that falls under the deceptive trade practices act.[3]This is not the first time that the multi-billion corporate giant has had to fight such legal battles. In 2021, Illinois had sued Facebook and won $650 million in a class action. Facebook was accused of using face tagging as well as other biometric information of users without their consent[4]. This case is also supposed to be the driving force that led to Facebook agreeing to delete the facial recognition data of approximately a billion people. Attorney General Ken Paxton has been vocal about his disagreement with the way people’s Right to Privacy has been dealt with by various corporations, including, but not limited to Facebook. In fact, Mr. Paxton, along with 42 other State Attorney Generals had come together and submitted a bi-partisan comment to the Federal Trade Commission, requesting it to take proactive measures for the purpose of protecting consumer data from being mishandled and misappropriated by Tech-giants like Google, Facebook, and so on.[5]

THE RIGHT TO PRIVACY

Even if a country or state lacks specific legislation protecting the privacy of its people, various international organizations have stepped in and filled the void by passing resolutions and statutes with universal applicability. Some of them are:

Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10th of December, 1948, states – “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home, or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”[6]

Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which came into force on 23rd March 1973, states – “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”[7]

On 19th December 2013, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution for furthering the goal of protecting the Right to Privacy of the people and highlighted its views in a text titled ‘Right to Privacy in the Digital Age’.[8]

WHAT IS THE FLIP SIDE TO THE DEBATE?

The fact that the ‘digital revolution’ has been doing a lot of good is undeniable, but the claim that all these facilities and opportunities are being provided to us free of cost is far from true. We have always been paying these platforms with our data, which generates billions of dollars in revenue for them via targeted ads or on being sold for other purposes. However, there do exist certain complications in asking these platforms to restrain themselves from collecting absolutely no user data for the sake of consumers’ privacy as well as their safety. One such issue has been raised by Meta during the Review of The Privacy Act in Australia. Meta quoted the findings of the America’s Digital Advertising Alliance’s survey that found that 84.1% of people would prefer a digital space with free facilities and advertisements over a space that does not have advertisements but requires the payment of appropriate sums of money for availing various services available.[9]

The continuance of a free digital space requires that tech companies generate their revenue from elsewhere, mainly through advertisements, and the continuation of advertisements would indicate that some sort of data collection would be required for reaching the target audience of these ads. Another facet related to personalized ads was highlighted during the course of the Pandemic. As entire countries went into lockdown, the only possible solution for existing small business owners or those who had to resort to starting a small business of their own, was relying on these personalized ads for the continuance or growth of their respective businesses[10]. In the absence of such ads, countless people are at risk of losing their livelihood or a chance at eventually making it big in the market.

CONCLUSION

As we continue to expand our digital presence, it is important that our rights as consumers of such digital platforms as well as citizens are not being infringed unlawfully. It is the collective responsibility of the State and Corporations to guard our privacy, safety, and security. No matter how many good and noble uses a Consumer’s data is put to, nothing tops their overall security and the protection of their Rights to Privacy. Thus, it is crucial that all the involved parties persevere to strike a balance between ensuring the continued use of the digital space in its full capacity as well as the Right to Privacy of the people.

Author(s) Name: Vatsala (National Law University, Odisha.)

References:

[1] ‘Texas sues Meta over Facebook’s Facebook’s Facial Recognition Practices’, (ALJAZEERA) <https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2022/2/14/texas-sues-meta-over-facebooks-facial-recognition-practicesn> accessed 18 February 2022

[2] F Mario Trujillo, ‘Texas Starts enforcing its Biometric Law’ (Z Will Gen Blog, 18 February 2022) <https://www.zwillgen.com/privacy/texas-cubi-law-and-biometric-privacy/#:~:text=In%20Texas%2C%20CUBI%20regulates%20%E2%80%9Cbiometric,and%20consent%20is%20first%20given.> accessed 18 February 2022

[3] Supra Note 1

[4] David Ingram, ‘Facebook to delete 1 Billion People’s Facial Recognition Templates’ (nbcnews, 2 November 2021) <https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/facebook-end-uses-facial-recognition-criticism-lawsuit-rcna4358> accessed 18 February 2022

[5] ‘AG Paxton urges FTC to Consider the Role of Consumer Privacy and Data in Antitrust Enforcement’, (texasattorneygeneral.gov) <https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/news/releases/ag-paxton-urges-ftc-consider-role-consumer-privacy-and-data-antitrust-enforcement> accessed 18 February 2022

[6] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art 12

[7] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Art 17

[8] General assembly backs Right to Privacy in the Digital Age, ‘UN News’ <https://news.un.org/en/story/2013/12/458232-general-assembly-backs-right-privacy-digital-age> accessed 19 February 2022

[9] Jeremy Nadel, ‘Google, Meta Push back against changes to Privacy Laws’ (itNews, 23 February 2022) <https://www.itnews.com.au/news/google-meta-push-back-against-changes-to-privacy-laws-576333> accessed 23 February 2022

[10] Ibid

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