Facial Recognition Technology in Public Housing Prompts Backlash

“You can imagine if you live in an apartment complex, the landlord says, ‘Hey, listen, we’re rolling out a new initiative. We are paying for data access into registered sex offenders. If you would like to be notified when a registered sex offender is picked up on our cameras, and they’re in the neighborhood, you can do that,’” he said. “I could imagine some residents saying, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s a huge feature. Yes, please let me know that.’”

He could also see a scenario where a police officer identified someone as a criminal suspect, only to be corrected by the technology. The software, if working well, could actually prevent clashes between innocent citizens and law enforcement.

Ms. Henriquez agreed.

“If I’m a victim or a family member or a friend is a victim of a crime, a shooting, something really awful,” she said, “I guess I would be inclined to want the police to have every tool legally possible to solve that crime.”

To detractors in Congress, such benefits seem too theoretical when the potential drawbacks are more immediate. The House bill to ban facial recognition software in public housing would also require that HUD submit a report to Congress outlining where the technology is used, its effect, the purpose, the demographics of the people living in the units where the technology is used, and the potential effect of it on vulnerable communities.

“This technology is untested, and is biased, and would only criminalize vulnerable communities, and result in greater surveillance and racial profiling,” Ms. Pressley said at a recent meeting in Somerville, Mass.

Ben Ewen-Campen, a Somerville city councilor, started the petition to ban the software in the city. At the same community event, he said that cities were taking action to ban the software because “there’s been no state and federal action whatsoever, despite the fact that there is overwhelming and bipartisan support for regulations, guidelines, transparency, around the usage of facial recognition.”

“No one should have to sign away their civil rights, their privacy, to have a home,” Mr. Ewen-Campen said.

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