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July 24, 2019

Z6 Magazine: Democrats Eye Banning Facial Recognition In Public Housing

In landmark legislation to be proposed in the Congress this week, lawmakers move to ban the use of facial recognition systems in public housing, saying that facial recognition “does not belong in the home.”

The new proposed bill is expected to be submitted by Reps. Yvette Clarke, a Democrat from New York; Ayanna Pressley, a Democrat from Massachusetts; and Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan, this week.

The “No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act” would prohibit public housing units who received funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development from installing facial recognition technology, according to a person familiar with the proposed bill.

Aside from prohibiting landowners from installing invasive technology, the new proposed bill will also require the Department of Housing and Urban Development to submit annual reports on facial recognition and smart-home technologies that would include details on public housing units and the impact of these systems to tenants.

The growth of facial technology and smart home devices, while being applauded by the tech sector, has been criticized by multisectoral organizations for their violation of people’s privacy. The trend has seen more and more landowners installing invasive home technology in their properties, which advocates called for regulation.

Supporters of the technology have been firm in lobbying the benefits of smart home technologies and facial recognition in housing. They said that these systems help tenants feel safe in their homes and aid the landlords in protecting their tenants as well. However, this insistence is faced with challenges as privacy advocates rebut them with the right of people to privacy.

This is the first time that legislation is focused on protecting tenants from invasive and privacy-violating technologies. While the new proposed bill will only affect public housing and those that are funded by the HUD, it opens a conversation on how important it is to protect tenants from violations of their privacy.

More and more landlords install invasive technologies in their homes

The proposed bill comes two months after Brooklyn tenants filed a lawsuit against a landlord who insisted on installing facial recognition entry system. Around 350 tenants of the Atlantic Plaza Towers said that the facial recognition system was an “excessive invasion of privacy” and cited studies detailing that facial recognition systems are prone to racial bias. However, the building in question will not be affected by the bill proposed in Congress as it is not a public housing financed by the HUD.

“The ability to enter your home should not be conditioned on the surrender of your biometric data, particularly when the landlord’s collection, storage, and use of such data is untested and unregulated,” Samar Katnani, an attorney for Brooklyn Legal Services’ Tenant Rights Coalition representing the tenants, said in May.

This is not the first legislation that challenges the use of the facial recognition system. A few months ago, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban the use of facial recognition by the police and other government agencies. The move of San Francisco against facial recognition has been followed by other states like Oakland, California, and Somerville, Massachusetts.

Advocates have since been vocal in spreading the ban throughout the United States. Lawmakers cite the different academic and investigative reports that point out the inaccuracy of facial recognition, adding to that the recent government-sponsored study, saying facial recognition is more likely to mismatch black women.

Back in May, Sens. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, and Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, put forward the Commercial Facial Recognition Privacy Act which prohibits businesses from using facial recognition technologies on their customers.

However, none of these existing laws and proposed bills can be used against landlords who insist on installing abusive technologies in their building amidst the resistance from their tenants who are concerned about their privacy.

According to a study, more than 20,000 homes in the last two years have been converted in smart-homes, complete with surveillance cameras and smart door locks.

In fact, in April, New York tenants have sued their landlord who installed smart lock system in their doors for their “right to own physical keys” citing that the app’s privacy policy allowed for location tracking which can be used by their landlords to stalk them. Furthermore, they argued that smart locks could also be used in potential abuse as landlords can change the locks easily without their knowledge. In the end, the landlord agreed to an order to provide the tenants with a physical key.