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House lawmakers to introduce bill banning facial recognition tech in public housing

House lawmakers to introduce bill banning facial recognition tech in public housing
© Greg Nash

A group of House lawmakers this week will introduce a bill banning facial recognition technology from public housing, the first federal proposal of its kind.

Reps. Yvette ClarkeYvette Diane ClarkeLawmakers call for small business aid at all levels of government The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Washington on edge amid SCOTUS vacancy The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Top tech executives testify in blockbuster antitrust hearing MORE (D-N.Y.), Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyPerdue's rival raises nearly M after senator mispronounces Kamala Harris's name Ocasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair MORE (D-Mass.) and Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibOcasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Kamala Harris's facial expressions during debate go viral MORE (D-Mich.) are planning to introduce the bill by the end of this week, a source familiar with the legislation told The Hill.

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The No Biometric Barriers to Housing Act would prevent facial recognition technology from being installed in housing units that receive funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

It would also require HUD to submit a report to Congress about how facial recognition technology is "impacting tenants, how it’s impacting vulnerable communities, what it means, why housing units are using it, so then they can determine really the best course of action here."

The legislation was first reported by CNet.

The bill emerges as the House ramps up its scrutiny of the sensitive technology, which scans people's faces for the purposes of identifying them, over the past several months. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have pledged they will work up legislation that would limit, or even impose a temporary ban, on facial recognition technology.

The technology's bipartisan critics have raised concerns that it is not ready for mainstream rollout, pointing to studies that have found certain products misrecognize women and people of color at higher rates. And they say it raises immense privacy concerns as it offers the ability for law enforcement to police people at nearly all points.

Tlaib and Pressley are members of the House Oversight Committee, which has held many of the highest-profile facial recognition technology hearings this year with a number of tech experts and government officials. Clarke is a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, which held its own hearing on the issue earlier this month.

The source close to the legislation said Clarke has heard from constituents who feel facial recognition technology in public housing units feels like a "violation."

"There's housing units that are installing, or proposing to install, this technology, and people are going home and feeling like they’re being subjected to this facial recognition technology in [their] own home," they said.

Tenants in Brooklyn earlier this year filed legal opposition to their landlord's attempts to install a facial recognition entry system in their building. They raised concerns about their landlord gaining "unfettered control over their biometric data," as well as the possibility that the technology would misrecognize minority residents, leaving them locked out of their home.

The bill has garnered support from the NAACP and the National Housing Law Project, as well as digital rights group Fight for the Future.

It has also already drawn blowback from the tech industry. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in a statement touted the potential benefits of installing facial recognition software in home surveillance cameras. ITIF receives significant funding from top tech companies.

"Banning facial recognition technology in public housing would be misguided," ITIF's vice president Daniel Castro saiad. "Smart home technology offers residents convenience and safety and helps landlords keep down costs."

There is another bill that would curtail facial recognition technology in the Senate. Sens. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel Schatz Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter's handling of New York Post article raises election night concerns | FCC to move forward with considering order targeting tech's liability shield | YouTube expands polices to tackle QAnon Democrats question Amazon over reported interference of workers' rights to organize MORE (D-Hawaii) and Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntBottom Line GOP vows quick confirmation of Trump's Supreme Court pick amid coronavirus turmoil This week: Coronavirus complicates Senate's Supreme Court fight MORE (R-Mo.) earlier this year introduced a bill to regulate the commercial use of facial recognition technology.

Outside groups have been pushing Congress to take action against the technology as cities in the U.S. have started banning facial recognition software altogether.