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How Does the U.S. Government Use Facial Recognition in Urban Development?

Facial recognition technology isn't exactly new. Modern systems work by scanning one's face, particularly their unique facial features, and comparing the results against a comprehensive database. While there's no denying that such systems can be invaluable tools in certain applications, including law enforcement, this technology isn't without its share of controversy.

Lately, however, the United States government has been using facial recognition technology in other areas, including urban development. Although it might come as a surprise to some, many early facial recognition platforms – amongst other forms of biometric identification – have already been rolled out in many urban regions and public housing areas.

No Surprise to Some

But the news isn't surprising to some state representatives, including democrats from New York, Massachusetts, and Michigan, who have all co-sponsored legislation to ban the use of biometric identification in public housing districts. This includes various forms of facial, voice, fingerprint, and DNA-based identification.

New York State Representative Yvette Clark summarized her feelings quite frankly by stating: "Someone living in public housing should not be the guinea pig for the emerging technology of biometric facial screening, just to enter their own home."

Ayanna Pressley, one of the bill's co-sponsors and a State Representative from Massachusetts, echoed her colleague's statements by saying: "Vulnerable communities are constantly being policed, profiled, and punished, and facial recognition technology will only make it worse."

The bill in question, known as the "No Biometrics Barrier to Housing Act," was initially unveiled in July 2019. According to the bill, any public housing units that are currently receiving federal funding would be prohibited from using facial recognition technology as well as other forms of biometric identification.

'''It's Even Worse Than We Thought'''

Making matters worse is the fact that the United States government doesn't even know how facial recognition technology is currently used in public housing. Per their own admittance, they don't currently have any policies or restrictions in place regarding the implementation of facial recognition technology in public housing.

Len Wolfson, assistant secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development stated: "The Department does not monitor or track the use of facial recognition technology in federally-assisted properties."

Again, the use of facial recognition technology isn't exactly new. It's been around in some instances since 2014, and its use is only becoming more commonplace as technology becomes more affordable and available.

Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, released a joint statement alongside New Jersey Senator Corey Booker, saying: ''"It's obvious from this response that Housing and Urban Development has a lot of work to do to get a handle on whether facial recognition technology is being used on residents of public housing, who often have no choice in where they live or whether they will be subject to invasive surveillance."''

Hints at a Deeper Problem

But there are other issues with facial recognition technology, too. Human and software-based errors, false positives, and incorrect data are all serious concerns that have already occurred in some cases. Once we solve those issues, as well as those surrounding the collection and population of facial recognition databases in the first place, then we can start using the technology for good.


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