New York City is spearheading an initiative to roll out the use of facial recognition technology by New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) in a matter of weeks, but their actions have drawn rebuke from a group of Democratic Senators, who have sent a letter to the Committee on Housing and Urban Development.
The Senators, who are Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand, were responding to the initiative’s proposed deployment of the technology in public housing across the five boroughs.
In a statement sent to the New York Times, NYCHA’s chief information officer Bob Carey contended that the technology has “developed to the point that, with minimal training, it can identify residents and collect data for important city services like 311, emergency alerts, and verification of IDs.
“It makes sense to expedite the timeline to make sure the technology is working as safely and efficiently as possible and, following recent calls from advocacy groups, is also best suited to address concerns of transparency and fair process.”
The technology to be implemented has also been modified to allegedly exempt everyone using it, including the service’s inhabitants.
“The Department of Housing Preservation and Development claims that all vendors chosen to deploy the system will have the ability to protect privacy rights of residents,” stated the Senators in their letter. “However, New Yorkers, who have the right to expect their privacy to be protected, cannot rely on the department’s assurances that the system can be used only for legitimate purposes or that software will be put in place to protect residents’ privacy.”
The letter adds that “the Department’s attempt to justify the introduction of a constitutionally suspect technology, that in broad sweep is fully capable of identifying and tracking New Yorkers without any safeguards whatsoever, does not mollify our concerns.”
To protect the rights of the 880,000 tenants that live in NYCHA, the Senators, a leading group of Democratic senators, asked the committee to delay deployment of the technology in public housing until the committee has received an internal FBI report on the risks and benefits to surveillance.
“As the use of facial recognition technology and other tools of mass surveillance goes unchecked,” continue the Senators, “our society will be unprepared to defend against today’s devastating cyberattacks. Our Justice Department and intelligence agencies are struggling to maintain an adequate caseload with disparate technological programs that often generate information without consultation with Congress. Our public safety and security agencies have already demonstrated a dismal track record when it comes to protecting civil liberties and ensuring meaningful oversight of law enforcement, meaning that there is no guarantee that, without adequate oversight, these programs will not be misused against American citizens.”
Our America’s fastest growing technology by a wide margin, facial recognition technology has experienced slow adoption over the past few years, although it is expected to dominate as the majority of American lives are transformed by online interactions in the future.
The commissioners of the Department of Homeland Security and FBI have both confirmed that they use the technology. However, it is estimated that the technology could identify as many as 200 million people, while being able to rapidly scan anyone’s face in seconds.