New York City businesses which have been using facial recognition technology may soon need to find another method of identifying their customers. A recently proposed bill co-sponsored by two Brooklyn democrats would require commercial businesses to obtain customers’ written consent before their biometric information is captured – or face a $5,000 fine for each violation.
“Studies have consistently shown that this technology has high error rates for darker skinned people,” City council member and co-sponsor Shahana Hanif (D-Brooklyn) said in a statement to The New York Post. “We’re headed down a dystopian path if we’re conceding that a facial recognition scan is a prerequisite to buying eggs.” Raised Muslim, Hanif added that she has “been aware of the surveillance state for years,” having grown up in New York City after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
While the bill has been picking up support with 15 legislators currently signed on, up from seven on May 3, Councilmember Robert Holden (D-Queens) feels otherwise. During a May 3 committee hearing, he said “I hope this doesn’t advance because I think it penalizes small businesses.”
A group of independent grocers formed a coalition earlier this year to address the lack of enforcement and accountability for organized theft and repeat offenders. Named Collective Action to Protect Our Stores (CAPS), many of its members have been “assaulted, terrorized, and had their physical and mental health jeopardized.”
“We still have a problem with first-time shoplifters, but once we see them we tag those people,” said Miguel Garcia, co-owner of a Foodtown, Key Food and Met Supermarket in the Bronx. He tells the Post they’ve been using the technology since last year. “We are losing a lot of staff because they are literally afraid to work in the store,” Garcia said. “It’s insane that [the city] want[s] to take this [technology] out of my stores when it’s cutting down on such confrontations.”
Hanif’s bill calls out “places of public accommodation,” which includes retail businesses, event spaces, and any place where goods or services are sold. In order for venues to collect biometric information, they must first obtain customers’ written consent, states the bill.
Another bill that was introduced on April 27 would limit the use of facial recognition technology in residential buildings. Sponsored by council members Rivera (D-Manhattan), Pierina Ana Sanchez (D-Bronx), and Tiffany Cabán (D-Queens), this bill would stop owners of buildings from collecting biometric data unless someone has expressly consented, in writing or through a mobile application.
“Currently, New York City and Portland, Ore., are the only two localities in the nation that limit private-sector use of the technology,” reports Bloomberg Law. “Some states and cities, like Massachusetts and San Francisco, ban facial recognition use by police and government agencies.”
“We’re headed down a dystopian path if we’re conceding that a facial recognition scan is a prerequisite to buying eggs,” said Hanif.
The next hearing for the bill has not been scheduled. It’s unclear if it’ll be fast-tracked.