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May 26, 2023

Pressley, Waters Urge HUD to Prohibit Use of Racially Biased Surveillance Technology in Federally Assisted Housing

People of Color More Likely to be Inaccurately Identified, Wrongfully Penalized

Text of Letter (PDF)

BOSTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), a member of the House Financial Services Committee, and Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the top Democrat on the Committee, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, urging the agency to put an end to the use of biometric technology, such as facial recognition, in federally assisted housing for the purposes of surveilling residents.

In the letter, the lawmakers raise concerns about the disparate impact such technologies pose to residents of color, who are more likely to be inaccurately identified and wrongfully penalized, and how the continued use of this technology will undermine our nation’s efforts to promote housing stability.

“We have long advocated for protections against such an abuse of power that continues to be inflicted upon public housing residents,” said the lawmakers. “These policies run directly counter to the goal of increasing housing stability and fairness through HUD-provided housing, which is all the more critical in light of the devastating housing crisis facing our nation. While we continue to push for legislation that will protect community members’ data from use in systems that perpetuate inequities, your agency must act in this critical moment to ensure public housing and HUD-assisted housing residents are not targeted by these discriminatory surveillance systems.”

A copy of the letter can be found here.

In March 2023, Rep. Pressley and her colleagues re-introduced the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act to stop federal entities’ use of facial recognition tools and prohibit federal support for state and local law enforcement entities that use biometric technology. They reintroduced the bill in June 2021.

In July 2019, Rep. Pressley 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. The No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act was again introduced in 2021.

In Congress, Rep. Pressley represents the cities of Boston, Somerville, and Cambridge, which are among the first cities on the east coast to outlaw the use of the technology, and has supported a statewide ban on its use in Massachusetts.