Over 130 tenants have filed a formal complaint with the state of New York in an effort to block a Nelson Management Group’s plan to install facial recognition technology in their apartment complex in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, according to The Guardian. The tenants of the Brooklyn complex see the spread of facial recognition as an assail on their privacy rights and believe this case will set an important precedent in the state and city of New York.
“We do not want to be tagged like animals,” said Icemae Downes, who has lived at Atlantic Plaza Towers since it opened 51 years ago. “We are not animals. We should be able to freely come in and out of our development without you tracking every movement.”
The facial recognition system would read the structure of each tenants face in order to determine whether or not they are permitted to enter the building. If they are, the front door would unlock, eliminating the need for keys and electronic fobs.
In addition the obvious privacy concerns, residents fear this effort is another piece in the larger trend of gentrification, in which developers within the neighborhood seek to attract high-income white people at the expense of the people of color who have occupied the space historically.
Facial recognition has faced wide opposition by the general public and the use of it within government entities has even been banned in San Francisco. Private use of the technology, such as with the case of Nelson Management, however, may be a different story, legally speaking. Ethically speaking, it’s not all that different—you’re either invading people’s privacy or you’re not.
“This turns people’s expectations upside down about their privacy. In 2019, most people expect that when they log online, they’re going to be tracked in some way,” said founding director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law Alvaro Bedoya. “In public, in real life, most people still think they can be a face in the crowd. And up until the deployment of facial recognition technology, they were right … This lets people be tracked in the real world like they are online, and I think that is a pretty basic invasion into our lives.”