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 ClarkeThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Val Demings calls for a new DOJ Office of Police Standards; Trump, GOP to pull convention from NC Democrats introduce coronavirus-focused privacy legislation NY Democrats call for mortgage forgiveness in next coronavirus relief bill MORE (D-N.Y.), Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyWarren, Pressley introduce bill to make it a crime for police officers to deny medical care to people in custody Minority caucuses call for quick action on police reform Democrats call for Congress to take action following death of George Floyd MORE (D-Mass.) and Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibPelosi: George Floyd death is 'a crime' Overnight Defense: Pentagon memo warns pandemic could go until summer 2021 | Watchdog finds Taliban violence is high despite US deal | Progressive Dems demand defense cuts Progressives demand defense budget cuts amid coronavirus pandemic 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 SchatzTrump calls New York Times 'fake newspaper' after headline change Calls for police reform sparks divisions in Congress Overnight Defense: Esper, Milley part of 'command center' for response to protests over George Floyd killing | Several West Point cadets test positive for coronavirus ahead of Trump commencement speech | UN report says Taliban, al Qaeda not breaking ties MORE (D-Hawaii) and Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntCalls for police reform sparks divisions in Congress Washington prepares for a summer without interns GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill 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.