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They’ve Got Next: Privacy and Cybersecurity Fresh Face Eli Wade-Scott

Oct. 29, 2021, 9:00 AM

Eli Wade-Scott began his legal career bringing cases against landlords on behalf of low-income tenants dealing with issues like bedbugs and no heat in his hometown of Chicago.

“I learned a lot about how to bring a case during that time,” he said of his work as a Skadden Fellow at Legal Aid Chicago, Cook County’s federally funded legal aid provider.

Now, as a partner at Edelson PC, he works with consumers and governments raising data protection concerns.

“We’re on the right side of every case we bring, whether it’s privacy issues or companies misleading the public,” he said of his work at the firm, which he joined in 2017.

Wade-Scott is Edelson’s lead lawyer representing the District of Columbia in a lawsuit filed in 2018 against Facebook Inc. over a data privacy scandal involving political consultancy Cambridge Analytica. D.C.'s attorney general recently added Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to the consumer protection lawsuit, one of the first times a regulator has personally targeted the social media site’s founder.

The suit, which alleges that Facebook’s lax oversight of third-party applications violates consumer protection law, gets at “the core” of Facebook’s purpose as a platform, based on the way it handles user data, Wade-Scott said.

“Are they a platform that really serves the user?” he asked. “Or are they essentially the world’s biggest data mining operation that focuses on profits over people?”

Serving as the lead outside lawyer, Wade-Scott is also representing the American Civil Liberties Union and other public interest groups that are suing Clearview AI Inc. in Illinois state court over privacy concerns with its facial recognition technology, which relies on images pulled from social media. The suit accuses Clearview of violating the state’s biometric privacy law by capturing and storing scans of people’s faces without permission.

The case is in the evidence-gathering stage after Wade-Scott argued against Clearview’s motion to dismiss the case, which the Illinois court rejected.

Wade-Scott is working with New Mexico’s attorney general in another suit concerning the data that Alphabet Inc.‘s Google collects about children through its online educational tools. The suit, filed in February 2020, alleges violations of the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

New Mexico’s attorney general is currently challenging an earlier court ruling in the case that found schools gave consent for data collection on the behalf of parents.

Wade-Scott says his work with states shows how state-level enforcers are leading the way on privacy protections as federal legislation remains stalled in Congress, with lawmakers stuck on issues like whether consumers should be allowed to bring lawsuits.

“They can step in and make a real impact,” he said of state attorneys general.

Wade-Scott has been appointed class counsel in cases that resulted in nearly a dozen consumer privacy settlements collectively worth about $50 million, according to Edelson. He was recently lead counsel in a $25 million privacy settlement in Illinois state court with human resources management company ADP Inc. over the use of employee finger scans for timekeeping. The class action for current and former employees of companies that used ADP’s timekeeping systems alleged violations of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, known as BIPA.

Proud of the work he’s done under BIPA, Wade-Scott said he wanted to secure settlements with the consumer in mind. “We took the position early on that cases were going to settle for real dollars, in a way you hadn’t seen with privacy cases before,” he said.

A Harvard Law School graduate, Wade-Scott served as a law clerk to Chief U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer of the Northern District of Illinois before joining Edelson.

Many of the cases that he works on now are “cases of first impression,” because they involve issues that haven’t been tested in the courts before, according to his mentor Jay Edelson, who founded the firm.

Wade-Scott’s work in the Clearview AI case is “groundbreaking,” Edelson said. Clearview raised what Edelson said were “novel” and “existential” arguments for privacy rights, including that its collection of templates for facial recognition is protected by the First Amendment.

Edelson said Wade-Scott’s “superpower” is being able to explain complex legal and technological issues while keeping sight of a business model’s impact on people’s privacy.

“Privacy law is interesting because it’s such a new and expanding area of the law,” said Edelson, adding that it gives lawyers room to try new tactics.

“Eli is never intimidated by that,” Edelson said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Vittorio in Washington at avittorio@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kibkabe Araya at karaya@bloombergindustry.com; Lisa Helem at lhelem@bloombergindustry.com