- Democratic lawmakers asked Ben Carson, head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to look into the use of facial recognition in public housing in a letter sent Wednesday.
- Lawmakers expressed concern about the technology’s accuracy and its potential to lead to over-policing and discrimination against women, non-cisgender people, or people of colour.
- The letter sought information on how facial recognition technology has already been deployed, how it has affected residents, and proof that it actually works, among other things.
- Senators Ron Wyden, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown and Ed Markey signed, the letter as well as Representatives Yvette Clarke, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib.
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Democratic lawmakers sent a letter on Wednesday to Ben Carson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, asking that the agency investigate the use of facial recognition technology in federally-subsidized housing.
The letter was signed by prominent Democrats, including Senators Ron Wyden, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown and Ed Markey as well as Representatives Yvette Clarke, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib, who asked for a response from HUD by January 24, 2020.
In the letter, the lawmakers said they were worried that the technology could “enable invasive, unnecessary and harmful government surveillance” and that inaccuracies could actually make residents less safe.
Those lawmakers wrote that residents who live in public housing “should not have to compromise their civil rights and liberties nor accept the condition of indiscriminate, sweeping government surveillance to find an affordable place to live.”
The letter cited reports about facial recognition camera systems already deployed in public housing in Detroit and New York City, as well as research indicating that the technology is more likely to misidentify women, non-cisgender people and people of colour.
“[HUD] is responsible for creating and ensuring discrimination-free practices in all communities,” lawmakers said.
Neither the federal government nor HUD currently regulates the use of facial recognition technology in any way, including its use in public housing.
Lawmakers asked HUD to look into a variety of issues, including how many housing properties already have facial recognition systems installed, details on who lives in those properties, and the technology vendors involved, as well as for any data supporting the use of the technology and the impact on the residents of those properties.
Earlier this year, Senator Booker introduced legislation that would ban the use of facial recognition technology in public housing and also opposed a proposed HUD rule that would allow housing providers to avoid liability for algorithmic bias if they use third-party tools.
HUD was not immediately available for comment.
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