Congress to Hear HUD ‘Facial Recognition’ Privacy Bill This Week

Published on July 23, 2019

For the first time in history, the federal government has addressed the limits in which facial recognition technology can be utilized and implemented with respect to public housing. This week, a proposed bill, is expected to be introduced to Congress, prohibiting such activity, according to reports by CNET.

The bill, known as the “No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act,” would essentially prohibit all public housing units that receive funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) from using technology such as facial recognition and other biometric information.

What You Need to Know

Facial recognition technology is extremely powerful, allowing businesses and government agencies to scan and identify a person or persons, based on image alone. Primarily adopted and implemented by law enforcement, businesses are now starting to gauge interest in the technology.

But this technology falls extremely short of ensuring consumers biometric information and data is protected.

#1—First Federal Bill to Analyze Technology Imposed On Tenants

This would be the first federal bill that looks at the type of technology landlords can legally impose on their tenants. As of now, there are zero technology laws that speak to what, where, and how landlords can impose technologies on its tenants.

While it’s true that this bill would only affect HUD housing, this still raises questions as to the nature and breadth of technologies that landlords may consider and impose upon tenants across the industry. This is particularly in good-timing, as privacy advocates are beginning to take a closer look at instances in which biometric information (facial identification, fingerprint, etc.) is used to access information.

According to Congress, facial recognition is a bipartisan issue, where proponents argue that the technology helps with security and making devices more convenient. Counter to that argument, there are those, like the city of San Francisco, which became the first city to ban facial recognition technology used by government agencies. Soon following San Francisco, were Oakland, California and Somerville, Massachusetts.

The only other federal bill that speaks to facial recognition, is the Commercial Facial Recognition Privacy Act, introduced by two U.S. Senators back in March. The act would prevent businesses from collecting facial recognition data on customers without their knowledge or using it without their consent. In other words, businesses cannot use that technology to identify customers walking into their stores without each and every customer giving their permission.

Illinois has the “Biometric Information Privacy Act” (“BIPA”), which prevents businesses from collecting biometric data without consumer consent. However, until a federal law passes on such technology, businesses are obviously able to continue utilizing that technology (and even selling the data it produces). Scary stuff.

#2 –HUD Required to Submit Facial Recognition Reports

Another requirement the bill sets forth, is that HUD would be required to submit a report on facial recognition, specifically outlining its impact and effect ton public housing units, as well as its tenants.

#3Case Study: NYS Housing & Community Renewal Office and Tenants of Atlantic Plaza Towers

This bill is being introduced just two months after tenants in Brooklyn, New York filed a legal opposition against a landlord who wanted to install a facial recognition entry system on its property—the Atlantic Plaza Towers, a rent-stabilized apartment building.

However, for the 350 tenants at the property, whom found out that their landlord was planning to replace the key fob entry system with facial recognition technology, this is a complete invasion of privacy, according to the Opposition, arguing that this technology is an excessive invasion of privacy.

Brooklyn Legal Services’ Tenant Rights Coalition represents all 350 tenants in this matter.

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

For more information, please read the Opposition to Facial Recognition Entry Systems Application, filed on April 30, 2019.

Where Is This Technology Being Used?

Just last week, Fight for the Future, a digital rights group that has called for the complete Federal ban on government use of this surveillance technology, released an interactive map showing every location in the U.S. where facial recognition surveillance technology is being used. Additionally, the map provides information as to local and state efforts in effect attempting to ban it.

Source: Fight for the Future

As of now, only San Francisco, Somerville, MA, and Oakland, CA are the only cities in the country to ban the technology.

It’s not a matter of IF, it’s a matter of WHEN. Convenience will always trump privacy, and consumers only seem to question it when they are personally affected, acting as if such an incident was unheard of.

Now, tenants are speaking up.

Andrew "Drew" Rossow is a former contract editor at Grit Daily.

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