US mulling ban on face recognition in public housing
26 July 2019 10:00 GMT

Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09), and Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) announced legislation that would prohibit the use of biometric recognition technology in most public and assisted housing units funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), protecting tenants from biased surveillance technology. Currently, more than two million residents live in public housing nationwide, leaving many communities vulnerable to over-surveillance with the emergence of biometric technology. This is the first federal legislation restricting biometric technology for use on tenants. 

The No Biometric Barriers Housing Act of 2019 would:

Prohibit the use of biometric recognition technology in public and assisted housing units funded under HUD

Require HUD to submit a report to Congress that provides analysis on any known use of facial recognition technologies in public housing units; the impact of emerging technologies on tenants; the purpose of installing the technologies in the units; demographic information of impacted tenants, and; the impact of emerging technologies on vulnerable communities in public housing, including tenant privacy, civil rights and fair housing includes HUD federally assisted rental dwelling units.

 

In June, Somerville, Massachusetts became the second U.S. city to ban the use of facial recognition technology in public spaces. Somerville, a city within Congresswoman Pressley’s district, is the first East Coast city to prohibit the use of biometric technology by local city departments or agencies over concerns that the practice invades residents’ privacy.

 

“Vulnerable communities are constantly being policed, profiled, and punished, and facial recognition technology will only make it worse,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “Program biases misidentify women and people of color and yet, the technology continues to go unregulated. Our bill, the No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act of 2019, will ban the use of facial recognition and other biometric technologies in HUD funded properties--protecting the civil rights and civil liberties of tenants throughout the country.”

 

In Clarke’s district, tenants at Atlantic Towers, a rent-stabilized community in Brownsville, spoke out against their landlord who wanted to install facial recognition technology in their apartment complex. This uproar from the community acted as a catalyst for the Congresswoman to craft legislation on the Federal level to proactively address this concern in public housing.

 

“Someone living in public housing should not be the guinea pig for the emerging technology of biometric facial screening just to enter their own home, which is why I’ve drafted the ‘No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act,’” said Congresswoman Clarke. “This technology in its current state has proven to be flawed--we know the accuracy of facial recognition technology significantly decreases when screening people of color and women. We also need safeguards for how collected biometric data is shared and stored. Only once we address these bias and privacy concerns can we have the conversation about public housing’s usage of biometric technology.” 


Facial recognition technology is a component of Project Green Light, a Detroit Police Department program that is being implemented in HUD-funded properties in Congresswoman Tlaib's district.

 

“We’ve heard from privacy experts, researchers who study facial recognition technology and community members who have well-founded concerns about the implementation of this technology and its implications for racial justice,” said Congresswoman Tlaib. “We cannot allow residents of HUD funded properties to be criminalized and marginalized with the use of biometric products like facial recognition technology. We must be centered on working to provide permanent, safe, and affordable housing to every resident – and unfortunately, this technology does not do that. As representatives, we have a duty to protect our residents and are doing so with the No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act of 2019.”

 

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