March 4, 2022

By Ramona du Houx

AUGUSTA – In a tripartisan vote, the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee advanced a bill on March 1, 2022 from Rep. Maggie O’Neil, D-Saco, aimed at protecting the right to privacy by regulating corporate collection and use of biometric identifiers.

“It is no secret that our personal information is collected, used and monetized at an alarming rate,” said Rep O’Neil. “In Maine, there are essentially no restrictions on the ways that Big Tech and other corporations can collect our biometric data, and what they can do with our data. I sponsored this bill to protect our personal data and to empower Mainers with a choice about what companies do with it.”

LD 1945 would require companies to obtain consent before collecting personal biometric identifiers, which can include anything from a person’s unique facial features or voice to retina patterns and fingerprints. Additionally, the bill bans companies from selling personal biometric data and establishes boundaries for how long they are able to retain it. To enforce these protections, the bill provides a private right of action, which empowers individuals to seek restitution when the provisions are violated. The attorney general may also enforce violations.

For many workers the thought of having their personal biometrics in a company data base that could potentially be hacked is scary and unsettling. The bill gives them some protection.

“We all know that our data is being collected and sold without our permission,” said Sen. Keim. “What we don’t know is how to stop it from being stolen during the course of our normal everyday online interactions. Data brokers and their technologies are light-years ahead of our current consumer protection laws, where gaping holes allow theft and nefarious use by default. The Legislature needs to act to give Mainers full control over their personal biometric data. Maine people want and deserve legal protection now.”

The legislation received tripartisan support from lawmakers, including Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Oxford, Rep. John Andrews, R-Paris, and Rep. Jeff Evangelos, I-Friendship.

“In the 21st century, people have become products, whether they like it or not,” said Rep.Andrews, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “Their biometric data has become a raw material to be harvested, analyzed and used in various capacities in the private sector. Their data is not ore to be dug from the earth, it is intimate personal information that needs to be protected in statute. People need to be able to vet who they want to have their biometric information. It’s my hope that this bill would go a long way to protecting the privacy of Maine’s children who are young enough to not have an online presence where their data has already been collected.”

LD 1945 was also supported by advocates including the American Civil Liberties Union of MaineMaine Youth Action, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and Mary Bonauto of GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, as well as Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey.  

“Rep. O’Neil’s bill brings to light serious invasions of privacy,” said Rep. Evangelos. “We are living in a brave new world in which rapidly developing technologies are surreptitiously executed by major corporations and government agencies. Our identities and biometric identifiers are marketed and sold for profit behind our backs, without our permission, or worse, when it comes to state surveillance. The implications of these developments around our Fourth Amendment protections of the right of the people to be secure in our persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, are truly disturbing.”

The bill faces further votes in the House and Senate in the coming weeks.

O’Neil is serving her third term in the Maine House. She is House chair of the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee and a member of the Government Oversight Committee. She represents District 15, part of Saco.

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