Target’s anti-shoplifting camera program is illegal, attorneys claim, seeking $1K to $5K damages per visit for Illinois customers

CHICAGO — Target stores risk losing a small fortune in a newly filed lawsuit because the company uses facial recognition technology to identify shoplifters in Illinois. Using the increasingly popular technology may seem like a natural way to combat theft, but the lawsuit claims Target’s practice violates Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act.

The law, one of the strictest biometric data regulations in the country, bars companies from collecting or keeping anyone’s biometric information without first informing the individuals and getting their written permission.

The class action suit, filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County, claims that “Target’s stores in Ilinois are outfitted with cameras and advanced video surveillance systems that—unbeknownst to customers—surreptitiously collect, possess, or otherwise obtain Biometric Data.”

“Target does not notify customers of this fact prior to store entry, nor does it obtain consent prior to collecting its customers’ Biometric Data,” the suit continues.

The suit claims Target has operated 14 “investigation centers” and two “forensic labs” and maintains a camera system that, among other things, detects people who linger in front of merchandise.

A woman named Arnetta Dean is the lead plaintiff in the suit. Her lawyers claim she “has entered Target’s stores on numerous occasions,” and each location she visited is believed to be equipped with facial recognition video surveillance systems. Yet, she claims she was never notified, nor did she give Target permission to collect her biometric data.

If Dean proves her allegations, Target should award her and every affected Target customer who joins the suit “$5,000 for each and every intentional and/or reckless violation” of the state’s law and “statutory damages of $1,000 for each and every negligent violation,” the suit claims.

According to the filing, “thousands” of Target customers might be eligible for payouts. Illinois courts have found that the biometrics law allows aggrieved parties to receive $1,000 to $5,000 for every violation within five years. 

Whether Target uses biometric data to track thieves is something the courts may have to decide. However, the company appears to be very good at keeping track of repeat offenders.

Renard Smith, a 53-year-old who got charged with shoplifting from Target stores in Lakeview and Lincoln Park three times in February, told police he was “surprised” the company kept track of dozens of other thefts he allegedly committed.

Target subsequently accused him of shoplifting six more times while on pretrial release.

Target is not alone in its biometric troubles. Amazon is being sued in Illinois because it offers a “virtual try-on tool” that allegedly uses biometric information to allow customers to see how they would look if they used certain cosmetics, the Cook County Record recently reported.

Employers who use fingerprints or other biometric tools for security access, timekeeping, and other purposes have also been sued for allegedly failing to comply with the state’s prickly law. Sen. Bill Cunningham has introduced a bill that would combine all employer-related violations into a single claim rather than a series of violations.

Cunningham said employers currently face “annihilative” payouts for violating the law.

“We are a true outlier in this country,” State Sen. Curran told the Center Square. “This is not a [biometrics] law that other states are saying Illinois got it right and we are going to follow suit and model the Illinois law.”

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