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No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act

Is banning biometrics the answer to safety and security in public housing?

 - 
Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Some people are calling it “social control,” some believe it’s exploiting the poor; others are saying it will “criminalize and marginalize” residents, while Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley mentions “rampant biases” especially with “women and people of color.” Sounds like “it” should be banned, right? Well, what if I told you I am talking about facial recognition biometric technology? Would that influence your decision to ban or not to ban this technology?

For the first time ever, a piece of proposed federal legislation addresses limits on biometric technology and tenants of public housing — the No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act of 2019, introduced by Congressional Democratic lawmakers Yvette Clarke from New York; Ayanna Pressley from Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib from Michigan. 

Here’s what the legislation would do: prohibit the use of biometric recognition technology in most public and assisted housing units funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and require the department to submit a report to Congress. Required in the report would be the following:

  • Any known use of facial recognition technologies in public housing units
  • Impact of emerging technologies on tenants
  • Purpose of installing this technology in units
  • Demographic information of tenants
  • Impact of emerging technologies on vulnerable communities in public housing, including tenant privacy, civil rights and fair housing.

Several organizations support this legislation including:

  • NAACP;
  • The National Housing Law Project;
  • National Low Income Housing Coalition; 
  • National Action Network;
  • Color of Change; and
  • The Project On Government Oversight (POGO), a nonpartisan, independent watchdog that investigates and exposes waste, corruption, abuse of power and when the govern fails to serve the public or silences those who report wrong doing. 

POGO went so far as to pen a letter to the Congresswomen, citing facial recognition systems have “registered false matches over 90 percent of the time in multiple law enforcement pilot initiatives,” and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers, the America Civil Liberties Union and an FBI expert found “facial recognition technology is less effective in properly identifying women and people of color, raising civil rights concerns.”

Thus far, this legislation would only affect HUD housing; however, it could very easily trickle into other landlord/tenant situations as the hot topic surrounding public security seems to revolve around privacy.