Washington State House Democrats


Morris bill protects consumers from new invasive technologies

OLYMPIA – New technology, known as biometric identifiers, is becoming more prevalent in consumers’ daily lives, yet most have no idea information is gathered about them without their consent, according to Rep. Jeff Morris (D-Mt. Vernon).

With privacy concerns in mind, Morris introduced a bill (SHB 1493) prohibiting a person from identifying an individual by enrolling a biometric identifier in a database without that person’s notice and consent. The bill passed the House of Representatives today with a bipartisan 81-17 vote. It now heads to the Senate for their review.

A biometric identifier system automatically recognizes an individual based on measurable biological characteristics. Such identifiers could be as simple as a fingerprint and as complex as the way you walk or the shape of your face, according to Morris. The bill would also prohibit selling, leasing, or disclosing a biometric identifier for a commercial purpose unless certain criteria are met.

“If used properly, biometrics could protect us from identity theft and fraud,” Morris said. “However, it can also pose risks to our privacy given the potential for misuse. So often, the Legislature plays catch up when it comes to regulating new technology. This bill hopefully instructs industries about privacy rules before the technologies are widely deployed.” Morris noted Washington state Chief Privacy Officer Alex Alben said during a hearing on the bill that the barn door is open, but the horses have not run out yet.

Morris credits the bipartisan work of Rep. Mark Harmsworth (R-44th) in moving the bill along to this point.

The House also passed SHB 1717, which creates even a higher standard of biometric privacy and deployment by state government. That bill was co-sponsored by Morris and prime-sponsored by Rep. Norma Smith (R-10th).