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Monday, April 13, 2015

Lawyer Specializes in Privacy Class Action Lawsuits vs Tech Giants

Jay Edelson graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1997. After working as an associate in Big Law for a few unsatisfying years, he struck out on his own in Chicagoland, specializing in privacy class action lawsuits.

These days, about a dozen years into this unique practice area, Edelson is loaded for bear and his case load is on fire.

Earlier this month, his law firm sued Facebook in a class action lawsuit in Cook County, Illinois, alleging violation of Illinoians' collective privacy in FB's secret collection of the world's largest database of consumer biometrics. Last year, his class action suit against Spokeo, the personal information search engine operating in Pasadena, CA, was appealed to the SCOTUS.

We here at the Law Blogger have a long-held belief that, legal or not, when you log key strokes while connected to the Internet, you are not operating in a private realm. Edelson's law suits attempt to beat back the tech giants hell-bent on mapping all of our on-line DNA onto an algorithm, usually designed for profit.

Here's how the class action lawsuit against Facebook begins:
Plaintiff Carlo Licata brings this Class Action Lawsuit Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial against Defendant Facebook, Inc., to put an end to its surreptitious collection, use, and storage of Plaintiff's and the proposed class's sensitive biometric data. 
The complaint then goes on to describe FB's Tag Suggestion feature [deployed since 2010] and how it actually utilizes proprietary facial recognition software designed to extract unique biometric identifiers in the user's uploaded photographs. This is done, according to the lawsuit, in violation of Illinois' Biometric Information Privacy Act; on the books since 2008.

Members of the proposed class include any resident of Illinois that has had his or her facial image, "collected, captured, or otherwise received while residing in the State of Illinois." In its prayer for relief, the class action suit seeks up to $5000 per individual.

Now let's just do the math on this for just a second. If Edelson's firm succeeds in certifying this class in Illinois and gets statutory damages, he may be able to move into every state that has a law similar the Illinois statute protecting biometric privacy. If he prevails state-by-state-by-state, the law firm's profits could be enormous depending on the size of the class; last we heard, FB had about a billion active users.

We will be tracking this very interesting privacy law suit as Facebook will not be taking this laying down; they have loads of available cash to hire top flight lawyers to defend the suit.

In the case against Spokeo, the plaintiff, Thomas Robins, as representative of a class of individuals, alleges he has been damaged due to the database's negligent collection and publication of inaccurate personal information. Edelson was able to reverse an early dismissal of the case on appeal to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

[Side note: We wanted to test the accuracy of Spokeo's database and this author was nonplussed to see his own profile contained a reference to a former spouse -from whom he has been divorced for nearly ten years- listed as the his only relative.]

The narrow issue currently under consideration at the SCOTUS pursuant to Spokeo's petition for a writ of certiorari is whether an individual, who cannot articulate exactly how an alleged violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act caused him damages, should nevertheless be able to access a federal court in a civil law suit; i.e. the issue is whether the plaintiff has standing to even bring the lawsuit.

According to the SCOTUS docket on this case, the petitoner's writ, Spokeo's response, and a dozen amicus briefs were distributed to the justices for their consideration and discussion at the April 17th conference.  We here at the Law Blogger think the case has a good chance of being heard.

Stay tuned on these and we'll get back to our readers with the developments.

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