Lawsuit accuses Northwestern University of unlawfully collecting students’ biometric data

A student at Northwestern University is suing the school, accusing them of unlawfully gathering students' biometric data.

The suit alleges that the university violates the Biometric Information Privacy Act in Illinois.

An anonymous student is suing Northwestern University for unlawfully collecting students’ biometric data through online test proctoring tools according to a class action lawsuit filed in late January.

According to The Daily Northwestern, the suit claims the school is violating Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act by not giving students a choice to opt out of the data collection.

The privacy act, known as the Biometric Information Privacy Act, was created in 2008 to protect Illinois citizens from the collection of fingerprints, retina scans and other personal data without consent. This is exactly what Northwestern is doing according to the lawsuit which describes the proctoring tools as “akin to spyware.”

“Through online proctoring tools, Northwestern collects, captures, and stores everything from a student’s facial features to their voice through a web portal accessed through the student’s personal device. Using these tools, Northwestern is able to collect and aggregate information on all aspects of a student’s life,” reads the suit in part.

[RELATED: As colleges continue online learning, proctoring becomes a privacy issue]

Many student exams at Northwestern are proctored through services such as Respondus Monitor and Examity which use the camera and microphone on a student’s personal device to uphold academic integrity during exams. Should the software detect a violation of testing protocol, students are locked out of their exam and are failed for cheating. Students have no other option but to submit to these monitoring rules during online exams.

[RELATED: FSU tries to stop cheating as tests go online. Students say solution invades privacy.]

The suit is the latest in a wider trend in higher education as students and faculty alike are fighting back against unwanted exam proctoring. Students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Texas at Dallas and, Miami University have all petitioned for the end to online proctoring for similar privacy concerns. In March 2020, the faculty associate board at UC Santa Barbara also sent a letter to the school’s chancellors advocating for the refusal of ProctorU on campus.

Northwestern University did not respond to a request for comment from Campus Reform, but told The Daily Northwestern that it does not comment on pending litigation.