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Tenants Outraged Over New York Landlord’s Plan To Install Facial Recognition Technology

A Brooklyn landlord plans to install facial recognition technology at the entrance of a 700-unit building, according to Gothamist, “raising alarm among tenants and housing rights attorneys about what they say is a far-reaching and egregious form of digital surveillance.”

[Last] Sunday, several tenants told Gothamist that, unbeknownst to them, their landlord, Nelson Management, had sought state approval in July 2018 to install a facial recognition system known as StoneLock. Under state rules, landlords of rent-regulated apartments built before 1974 must seek permission from the state’s Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) for any “modification in service.” Tenants at the two buildings, located at 249 Thomas S. Boyland Street and 216 Rockaway Avenue, said they began receiving notices about the system in the fall. According to its website, Kansas-based company StoneLock offers a “frictionless” entry system that collects biometric data based on facial features. “We don’t want to be tracked,” said Icemae Downes, a longtime tenant. “We are not animals. This is like tagging us through our faces because they can’t implant us with a chip.”

It is not clear how many New York City apartments are using facial scanning software or how such technology is being regulated. But in a sign of the times, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development last June began marketing 107 affordable units at a new apartment complex in the South Bronx. Among the amenities listed was “State of the Art Facial Recognition Building Access….” Across the real estate industry, New York City landlords have increasingly been moving to keyless entry systems, citing convenience as well as a desire to offer enhanced security. Over the years, in response to appeals filed by tenants, HCR has ruled in favor of key fob and card entry systems, saying that such substitutions did not violate rent-stabilization and rent-control laws. But the latest technology has triggered even more concerns about the ethics of data collection….

Last month, the management company reached out to a group of tenants to assuage their concerns about StoneLock. But tenants said the presentation, if anything, only deepened their fears that they were being asked to submit to a technology that had very little research behind it.

“This was not something we asked for at any given time,” one tenant complaint, while one of the attorneys representing the tenants said that, among other things, their landlord had “made no assurances to protect the data from being accessed by NYPD, ICE, or any other city, state, or federal agency.”

“Citing concerns over the potential for privacy and civil liberties violations, tenants at Brownsville’s Atlantic Plaza Towers filed an objection to the plan in January…”