December 18, 2019

Wyden, Colleagues Demand HUD Review Facial Recognition Technology Use in Federally Assisted Housing

In bicameral letter to HUD Secretary Ben Carson, legislators question the use of facial recognition in federally assisted housing, highlight possible threats to residents’ safety and civil liberties

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Cory Booker, D-N.J., Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Kamala D. Harris, D-Calif., and U.S. Representatives Yvette D. Clarke, D-N.Y., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., today asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to review policies regarding the use of facial recognition technologies in federally assisted housing. 

In a letter to HUD Secretary Ben Carson, the legislators pointed out the threats that facial recognition technology poses to marginalized communities, opening the door to unchecked government surveillance.

“[HUD] is responsible for creating and ensuring discrimination-free practices in all communities,” the legislators wrote. “However, as numerous civil rights experts have pointed out, when public housing and federally assisted property owners install facial recognition security camera systems, they could be used to enable invasive, unnecessary and harmful government surveillance of their residents. Those who cannot afford more do not deserve less in basic privacy and protections. They 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.” 

Experts have also noted inaccuracies in facial recognition technology that disproportionately affect vulnerable communities, specifically women, transgender individuals and people of color.

The legislators continued, “These false and biased judgments can exacerbate the vulnerabilities that marginalized groups already face in life, such as the overcriminalization of people of color and transgender individuals. Potential sharing of this data, particularly with law enforcement, further heightens concerns about the risk this technology poses to vulnerable communities.”

The legislators requested a response from HUD by January 24, 2020.

In July 2018, Wyden and Booker questioned federal law-enforcement agencies on their use of facial recognition technology.

A full copy of today’s letter is available here.