New York City Council has passed a bill that would force retailers and other commercial establishments to disclose any use of facial recognition technology. The bill was sponsored by Bronx Council Member Ritchie Torres (D), and now awaits the signature of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio to become an official city law.
While the bill does not ban the use of facial recognition, it does bar the sale of the data collected with a surveillance system. Businesses that violate the bill would need to pay a $500 fine if they are caught using facial recognition without posting any kind of notification to indicate that they are collecting biometric data, and a much steeper $5,000 fine if they are caught selling that data to third parties.
The bill is noteworthy because it speaks to the expanding scope of recent facial recognition regulations. In the past two years, many cities have tried to reign in law enforcement with bills that ban the police use of facial recognition. Laws that address the private sector are far less common, with Portland, Oregon, standing as the one notable exception. In September, the city passed a law that prevents the private use of biometric data in public-facing establishments like restaurants, doctors’ offices, and retail outlets. That law is set to go into effect on January 1.
Proponents of the New York City law cited racial bias as one of their primary motivating factors. It arrives as Co-op faces growing scrutiny for quietly deploying facial recognition cameras at a number of grocery stores in England.
“We shouldn’t allow giant companies to sell our biometric data simply because we want to buy necessities,” said Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn. “Far too many companies use biometric surveillance systems to profile customers of color, even though [the systems] are biased.”
Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act also address the use of biometric data in the private sector, even if it stops well short of an outright ban. The law forces businesses to obtain explicit consent before collecting the biometric information of customers and employees.
December 11, 2020 – by Eric Weiss