Welcome back for another week of What’s Next, where we report on the intersection of law and technology. This week, we take a look at a lawsuit accusing Apple of using facial recognition to accuse the wrong person of shoplifting. Plus, questions are surfacing again over when the government tells companies about software exploits it’s discovered. As always, thanks for reading.
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Facing the Facts
The Illinois Supreme Court made waves earlier this year after ruling that a 14-year-old boy’s rights were violated under Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act after Six Flags collected and stored his fingerprint for park access without prior required notice and release. Some attorneys thought the ruling might lead to a flood of biometric suits, and whether that actually comes to fruition remains to be seen. But where it might see its most immediate application is in an area of technology that a lot more companies are familiar with: facial recognition.
Last week, an 18-year-old New Yorker named Ousmane Bah sued Apple, alleging he was misidentified in a string of Apple store thefts. What’s interesting, though, is that the suit alleges the misidentification occurred through facial recognition technology, as allegedly relayed to Bah by an NYPD officer. Apple claims it doesn’t use this technology, but the mere mention of it should raise some eyebrows—especially in Illinois, where that aforementioned BIPA allows for a private cause of action for violations.
Mary Smigielski, a partner at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, told Legaltech News that “there’s a great risk to using that technology in a state like Illinois.” The problem, she explained, is that violating the law can occur easily. “You only need a technical violation,” Smigielski said. “You don’t need to have a data breach or have the information stolen, just the mere fact that you proceeded without having consent is violation.”
What it means for retailers in Illinois is that they must have that consent: Drinker Biddle & Reath partner Justin Kay suggested a readily available public policy explaining what the retailer is collecting, why it is collecting, consent to share it and “can’t otherwise profit from it.” And even outside of Illinois, it may be a good idea to implement public notice of facial recognition policy where possible.
It’s not just a legal issue, added Proskauer Rose partner Jeffrey Neuburger, but a public perception one: “I think it takes away some of the creepiness factor if people ultimately find out they are using facial recognition.” —Zach Warren
Dose of Dystopia: “Internet God Mode”
In the inaugural issue of this newsletter, we wrote about the “Vulnerabilities Equities Process,” an obscurely-named set of U.S. government policies and procedures that determine whether NSA hackers will tell companies about software exploits they’ve discovered—or keep them secret as tools to use against enemies. The key phrase there is “keep them secret.”
We already know from the “WannaCry” debacle that that doesn’t always pan out as planned. Leaks by a group known as the Shadow Brokers in 2017 unleashed NSA weapons on systems around the world. Certain big tech companies (ahem, Microsoft) were none too happy to find out they had been kept in the dark. And now, on Monday, security firm Symantec revealed that the vulnerability underlying Wannacry was used in the wild even before the Shadow Brokers leak, raising new questions about the U.S. policy.
The so-called SMB vulnerability has been described as “Internet God mode,”giving an attacker access to the guts of the computer’s system without the user having to click a link or do anything. Wired reporter Andy Greenberg explains the new findings in depth this week:
Symantec found that by March 2016, the SMB zero-day had been obtained by the Chinese BuckEye group, which was using it in a broad spying campaign. The BuckEye hackers seemed to have built their own hacking tool from the SMB vulnerability, and just as unexpectedly were using it on victim computers to install the same backdoor tool, called DoublePulsar, that the NSA had installed on its targets’ machines. That suggests that the hackers hadn’t merely chanced upon the same vulnerability in their research—what the security world calls a bug collision; they seemed to have somehow obtained parts of the NSA’s toolkit.
Companies have faced legal scrutiny over shoddy device security. Surely, the types of advanced exploits in the hands of the NSA are of a different variety. Still, against that backdrop, this episode seems to present thorny questions of liability. If the computer systems of a bank—or a hospital—get severely compromised by a hack, what responsibility should the maker of the software hold? And how should that equation change if the government was holding the secret keys all along? —Ben Hancock
On the Radar:
Tweet Screening: Elon Musk’s latest agreement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission requires the chief executive officer get preapproval from securities counsel before tweeting about Tesla finances, but it’s not yet clear who that lawyer is or if he or she has been selected. The agreement resolves SEC allegations that Musk breached an October 2018 settlement with the agency in February by tweeting inaccurate 2019 Tesla sales production estimates without running the post past his general counsel. Read more from Caroline Spiezio here.
Follow the Money: As rule makers and politicians continue to debate about whether to disclose third-party funding in multidistrict litigation, some federal judges have forged ahead in requiring plaintiffs lawyers to do just that. Judges in at least three cases have ordered such disclosures in the past year, in most cases as part of the process of appointing plaintiffs attorneys to leadership teams. Read more from Amanda Bronstad here.
Corporate Blockchain: Maryland now allows corporations to keep their records and transmit corporation communications through blockchain. Its Big Law drafter said the amendments should allow for quicker transactions and shareholder communication. Read more from Victoria Hudgins here.