Proposed law would force landlords to limit facial recognition technology

Proposed law would force landlords to limit facial recognition technology
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

A Park Slope lawmaker wants to rein in landlords from using facial recognition technology to track tenants.

City Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope) introduced the Keep Entry to Your home Surveillance-Free Act — which he’s branded the KEYS Act, not the KEYHSF Act — that would give tenants the option to demand traditional locks instead of “smart keys” that rely on facial scanners and smartphone apps, which he claims could be used to track tenants movements and collect their personal data.

According to Lander, unscrupulous landlords have used the data to accuse tenants of violating their lease and threaten them with eviction.

“Clearly, some [landlords] are trying to build cases against their tenants,” said the Councilman. “You might be letting someone stay with you, and they might think that was an AirBnB tenant.”

The complaints against the “smart” locks first surfaced in May, when over 130 rent-stabilized tenants claimed that their Brownsville buildings’ facial scanners allowed their landlords to keep tabs on their comings and goings.

Others have argued that facial recognition tends to misidentify people of color, and that smartphone-activated key apps are not accessible to older, less-tech-savvy residents.

In one case, an elderly man in Manhattan filed a lawsuit against his landlord after he was locked out of his apartment building, where his landlord had installed Latch — a lock accessible via phone app.

However, smart key companies have argued that the backlash against them is rooted in misunderstanding.

Latch locks, for example, can also be opened with a key card or a code in addition to a phone app, and a spokeswoman for SmartLock — the facial scanning technology employed by the Brownsville apartment towers — argued that the scanner doesn’t “track” users or take photos of their faces.

“[SmartLock captures] only five percent of a user’s facial information without the use of any photographs, making the biometric data indistinguishable to the human eye so how the user looks is not known or tracked,” said a spokeswoman for the company.

Additionally, facial recognition increases safety because physical keys — unlike faces — can be lost or stolen, argued the spokeswoman.

“There is no need for a physical key, which only significantly weakens security and creates opportunities for lost, stolen or misplaced keys to be used by unauthorized individuals to easily gain access,” she said.

Reach reporter Rose Adams at radams@schnepsmedia.com or by calling (718) 260–8306. Follow her on Twitter @rose_n_adams