NYC Considers Regulating Facial Recognition at Apartment Buildings

Kevin Hogan
By Kevin Hogan
October 31, 2019New Yorkshare

NEW YORK—New York City Council is considering a bill that would force landlords to give physical keys to their tenants. This would allow residents to bypass keyless entry systems, which can include facial recognition scanners—a technology that has serious security concerns.

The total number of buildings that use facial recognition technology isn’t known, but one company alone, GateGuard, has systems installed in over 700 apartment buildings across the city (pdf).  The use of face scanning is cause of concern since biometric data can be stolen. This can pose an ongoing risk of identity fraud because unlike a password, a person’s face never changes.

On Oct. 17, the Committee on Housing and Buildings received the bill that would require building owners to provide residents with mechanical keys (doc) to their buildings and individual apartments. So-called “smart locks” could still be used, but providing old-fashioned keys to tenants would allow them to opt-out of having their faces scanned.

For example, residents at the Knickerbocker Village Apartments on the Lower East Side of Manhattan have no choice.

“It’s a manual entry key to go inside the front gate, but you need the facial recognition to go inside the individual building,” said Knickerbocker tenant David Thomas.

Facial recognition identifies a person by comparing their facial image to a database of stored faceprints, according to the Federal Trade Commission. A faceprint is one type of biometric data.

Biometrics has expanded from distinguishing basic physical traits to include fingerprints, eye scans, voice recognition, DNA, and facial recognition.

Unique Security Threat

New technology creates a new set of security concerns.

“What happens if the landlord’s computer gets hacked. What happens to everybody’s biometric materials?” tenant attorney Samuel Goldberg said. “This could be used to steal identities, credit card fraud, a lot of different things.”

Tenants at the Atlantic Plaza Towers in Brooklyn, have filed a dispute (pdf) with the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) against their landlord for wanting to install facial recognition for the entire building.

The DHCR has already ruled that landlords cannot collect social security numbers or passport information from a tenant and put that information in a database linked to key fobs, Goldberg said.

Now the DHCR needs to determine if landlords can collect biometric data such as faceprints from tenants.

“In a landlord tenant relationship, there’s absolutely no need for a landlord to have anything like that from a tenant,” said Goldberg. “Furthermore, with this biometric material, one of the main concerns is the landlord collects all of this information and there’s nothing currently in place, which says what the landlord is allowed to do with the information.”

The threat of biometric data being sold to third parties without consent, or it being stolen, are drawbacks of face scanning.

Biometric data from Suprema, a global security and identity company, was breached on Aug. 5. Biometric records of 1 million people—including facial recognition data—were discovered to be publicly accessible, according cyber security company Symantec.

On the other hand, smart locks that use facial recognition have several advantages. They’re quick and convenient for users. And they can allow landlords to rent out short-term housing remotely, without having to be physically present to give the keys to guests who have booked the apartment, according to the artificial intelligence magazine Becoming Human.

How to Protect Your Biometric Data

Once your biometric data is recorded, there is not much you can do to stop that data from being stolen in a breach. However, Symantec has some recommendations to prevent this data from being collected in the first place.

If your employer wants to use facial recognition, ask if it’s possible to use an alternate form of identification, such as a physical pass instead. Also, ask questions about why the biometric data is needed and how it will be used.

The company also recommends taking the time to find out what security measures are in place to protect your data, how long it will be stored, and who has access to it.

From NTD News

ntd newsletter icon
Sign up for NTD Daily
What you need to know, summarized in one email.
Stay informed with accurate news you can trust.
By registering for the newsletter, you agree to the Privacy Policy.