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New York City Takes Steps to Preempt Adoption of Facial Recognition Technology

Liability, NYC, Real Estate Legality

Facial recognition technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last few years. Because our faces are as unique as our fingerprints yet also publicly visible to surveillance cameras, adoption of this technology has created a host of questions about privacy, civil liberties, and the law. Facial recognition technology has become ubiquitous in China, with people able to link their faces to their bank accounts and residences—allowing one to pay for food at a restaurant or enter an apartment building with a quick grin. In the UK, controversy erupted a few weeks ago when it was revealed that widespread testing of facial recognition tech had been ongoing in London without the knowledge or consent of millions of Londoners. [1]

New York’s City Council is likely to preempt the adoption of such technologies with a new bill that would give tenants an opt-out from so-called “keyless” technologies that landlords have been adopting for some of their buildings. The bill would allow people to prevent biometric data like fingerprints or facial recognition from being collected without their consent. Other legislation being discussed would obligate landlords who collect such data to register with the city, which suggests a broader suite of legislation regulating these technologies may be on the cards. [2]

The use of these technologies by either the state or the private sector undoubtedly raises serious questions about expectations of privacy for citizens in the 21st century. The technology is new, and jurisprudence on these matters will surely develop simultaneously as it is rolled out or blocked (See our September 23 2019 blog on virtual doormen for more on these issues). But it is also worth remembering that despite its potential power, facial recognition technology is far from perfect—in some studies the misrecognition rate can be as high as 80 percent—and a keyless building dependent on facial recognition could lock people out if there was a malfunction or power outage. These technologies are not foolproof, and it will be fascinating to see how these laws develop at the state and national levels. [3]

[1] Satarianao, A. (September 2019) Real-Time Surveillance Will Test the British Tolerance for Cameras from New York Times Accessed October 11 2019

[2] Spivack, C. (October 2019) NYC seeks to curb facial recognition technology in homes and businesses from Curbed NY Accessed October 11 2019

[3] Brenzel, K. (October 2019) NYC seeks to rein in keyless technology in apartment buildings from The Real Deal Accessed October 11 2019

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