Restrictions closing in on facial recognition, biometric surveillance in public housing, Alameda, NYPD efforts

Restrictions closing in on facial recognition, biometric surveillance use in public housing, Alameda, NYPD efforts

Earlier this month, U.S. presidential election Democratic candidates were asked to speak their mind about facial recognition. They were unanimously concerned about legislation addressing this technology, arguing it needs to be better regulated to prevent risks and pitfalls.

Democratic senators are now asking Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to start an investigation on how facial recognition is used in assisted housing, reports BuzzFeed News. The eight senators who signed the letter of concern fear the biometric technology could be used for “invasive, unnecessary and harmful government surveillance.” They expect an answer by January 24, 2020.

At the moment, the federal government does not regulate facial recognition.

“Those who cannot afford more do not deserve less in basic privacy and protections,” the letter reads. “They should not have to compromise their civil rights and liberties nor accept the condition of indiscriminate, sweeping government surveillance to find an affordable place to live.”

The senators want to know in how many facilities the government has used facial recognition technology in the last five years and if this was deployed using federal money, if there are policies to regulate its use and if any research has been done on its use in public housing. The lawmakers cite scientific research claiming the technology has high inaccuracy rates and bias.

“These false and biased judgments can exacerbate the vulnerabilities that marginalized groups already face in life, such as the overcriminalization of people of color and transgender individuals,” the letter says. “Potential sharing of this data, particularly with law enforcement, further heightens concerns about the risk this technology poses to vulnerable communities.”

In July, U.S. legislators were preparing to bring a proposed “No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act” bill before congress which would ban the use of biometric facial recognition by public housing units that receive funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Another city in California bans facial recognition

East Bay city of Alameda has joined the ranks of cities banning the use of facial recognition technology on claims that law enforcement may abuse it to threaten civil liberties, reports East Bay Times. However, the City Council voted the police will still be allowed to work with facial recognition data if received from an agency like the FBI who might need assistance in an investigation.

The resolution is part of a broader privacy and personal data policy update, and the council plans to pass ordinances to support its enforcement. Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft notes a need to balance different interests, including the prevention of crime with technology.

Vice Mayor John Knox White said the technology does not work and is “not even close to being ready for discussion.”

In the state, Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco have also banned or placed moratoriums on the use of the technology by government agencies.

The POST Act demands police accountability for surveillance tech use

The New York City Council has held a meeting on the POST Act (Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology Act) under which the NYPD would have to disclose its use of surveillance tools, reports Brennan Center for Justice. The POST Act aims to bring more transparency and accountability into law enforcement activity with biometric and surveillance technology such as body-worn cameras equipped with facial recognition.

In August, the NYPD was accused of violating best practices and law with DNA and facial biometrics databases it was secretly building, and the Brennan Center suggests additional oversight is needed to prevent pervasive surveillance and potential harms.

Under the recently-proposed POST Act, the municipality would conduct public oversight but it wouldn’t interfere with police matters. The NYPD has opposed the bill; it would have to reveal all information and policies on each technology used, and the inspector general would have to annually review the NYPD to make sure policies are not violated.

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