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Reps. Clarke, Pressley & Tlaib Announce Bill to Ban Public Housing Usage of Facial Recognition & Biometric Identification Technology 

Washington, D.C. – Today Congresswomen Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) announced legislation that will protect public housing residents from being subjected to biometric technologies in their residences. The “No Biometric Barriers Housing Act of 2019” 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 2019 includes HUD federally assisted rental dwelling units. The term ‘‘covered federally assisted rental dwelling units” includes residential dwelling units that are made available for rental and for which assistance is provided, or that is part of a housing project for which assistance 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 2019 does two things. First, it would prohibit the use of 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, Somerville, Massachusetts became the second U.S. city to ban the use of facial recognition technology in public spaces. Somerville, a city within Congresswoman Pressley’s district, is the first East Coast city to prohibit the use of biometric technology by local city departments or agencies over concerns that the practice invades residents’ privacy.

Pressley said: “Vulnerable communities are constantly being policed, profiled, and punished and facial recognition technology will only make it worse. Program biases misidentify women and people of color and yet, the technology continues to go unregulated. Our bill, the No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act of 2019, will ban the use of facial recognition and other biometric technologies in HUD funded properties–protecting the civil rights and civil liberties of tenants throughout the country.”

Facial recognition technology is a component of Project Green Light, a Detroit Police Department program that is being implemented in HUD-funded properties in Congresswoman Tlaib’s district.

Tlaib said: “We’ve heard from privacy experts, researchers who study facial recognition technology and community members who have well-founded concerns about the implementation of this technology and its implications for racial justice. We cannot allow residents of HUD funded properties to be criminalized and marginalized with the use of biometric products like facial recognition technology. We must be centered on working to provide permanent, safe, and affordable housing to every resident – and unfortunately, this technology does not do that. As representatives, we have a duty to protect our residents and are doing so with the No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act of 2019.”

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

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  • View a copy of the legislation here