Congress: Legislation To Ban Facial Recognition in Public Housing Reintroduced

“No Biometric Barriers Housing Act of 2021” will prohibit the usage of facial and biometric recognition in most federally funded
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Washington, D.C. — Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), and Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) released the following statement announcing the reintroduction of their bill, the No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act of 2021:

The “No Biometric Barriers Housing Act of 2021” will prohibit the usage of facial and biometric recognition in most federally funded public housing and will require the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to submit a report to Congress about how this emerging technology interplays within the public housing sector and its tenants.

More than two million residents live in public housing nationwide. The No Biometric Barriers Housing Act of 2021 includes HUD federally assisted rental dwelling units. The term ‘‘covered federally assisted rental dwelling units” includes residential dwelling units made available for rental and for which assistance is provided. That is part of a housing project for which service is provided under the public housing program under the United States Housing Act of 1937. 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.

Clarke said: “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.’ 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.”

The No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act of 2021 does two things. First, it would prohibit biometric recognition technology in public and assisted housing units funded under the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Secondly, the legislation will require the Department of Housing and Urban Development to submit a report to Congress that researches:

  • 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
  • the impact of emerging technologies on vulnerable communities in public housing, including tenant privacy, civil rights, and fair housing

In June of 2019, Somerville, Massachusetts became the second U.S. city to ban facial recognition technology in public spaces. Somerville, a city within Congresswoman Pressley’s district, is the first East Coast city to prohibit using biometric technology by local city departments or agencies over concerns that the practice invades residents’ privacy.

“Facial recognition technology consistently misidentifies women and people of color and only exacerbates the constant surveillance and criminalization that the most marginalized already face,” said Congresswoman Pressley . “This much-needed bill will ban the use of facial recognition and other biometric technologies in HUD funded properties and will help protect the civil rights and liberties of tenants throughout our country.”

Tlaib said: “Biometric technologies like facial recognition have been found to be inaccurate, disproportionately target women and people of color, and violate basic privacy protections. HUD properties should be focused on providing permanent, safe, and affordable housing to every resident who needs it – not fueling the overcriminalization of marginalized communities. This technology has no place in public housing.”

This is the first federal legislation restricting biometric technology for use on tenants.

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