Brooklyn tenants take up facial recognition fight

Facial recognition technology.
Facial recognition technology.

Brooklyn tenants take up facial recognition fight

The battle to draw a hard line between privacy and security is ongoing.
May 3, 2019

The battle to draw a hard line between privacy and security is being fought around the world as lawmakers, tech companies, and civil liberties advocates contend with how much or how little evolving technologies like artificial intelligence and facial recognition should become a part of everyday life. It’s a question that the federal government has been unable to answer – at least, not yet.

Now a new front has opened in Brooklyn as a group of tenants in the Brownsville neighborhood fights against their landlord’s attempts to install facial recognition entry systems in their rent-regulated residential buildings. The landlord, Nelson Management Group, applied to the state Homes and Community Renewal agency last summer to install the tech at the Atlantic Plaza Towers, one of roughly 12 properties owned by Nelson. The tenants argue that the application of the technology would be a dangerous violation of privacy, especially for the many people of color who live in the development. Facial recognition systems have notoriously struggled with accurately detecting darker skin tones and women’s faces – even the technology developed by a tech giant like Amazon.

In order to block the use of facial recognition technology at the Atlantic Plaza Towers, HCR would have to deny Nelson’s application, which tenants are pressuring the agency to do. Gothamist reports that this is HCR’s first time dealing with a facial recognition technology application, so while their decision could likely set an important precedent for tenants and landlords in New York City, there’s no deadline for HCR to make a decision, meaning the matter could drag on indefinitely.

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Annie McDonough
is a tech and policy reporter at City & State.