The Real Estate Board of New York to The New York City Council Committees on Civil and Human Rights and Technology Regarding Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology

Ryan Monell

Vice President of Government Affairs

May 2, 2023

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Thank you, Chair Williams and Chair Gutierrez, and committee members for the chance to discuss facial recognition identification systems and other biometric technology as part of today’s hearing.

In recent years, REBNY has appreciated the opportunity to work with the City Council as biometric technology, including facial recognition, has continued to evolve, and become more prevalent in society and across industries. The real estate industry is no exception.

In many ways, these emerging technologies have benefitted the real estate industry. Examples include the utilization of biometrics to allow easier building access for both residential and commercial tenants while maintaining appropriate security, faster retail experiences that allow for traditional checkout kiosks to be bypassed, and data retention systems that analyze use trends to create more comfortable and energy efficient buildings.

Through all these examples and beyond, REBNY members have established best practices to ensure that this technology can be embraced while protecting the personal information of those who interact with our built environment every day. This includes ensuring that data is retained and disposed of appropriately, and that transparency remains a key principle as innovative technologies emerge. It is through these lenses that REBNY looks forward to working with the Council on the legislation being heard today.

While changes should be made to the legislation being heard today to provide additional clarity and to avoid unintended consequences, REBNY agrees with the intent of both bills and looks forward to working with the Council to strengthen this legislation if there is an opportunity to do so.

BILL: Intro 1014-2023

SUMMARY: This bill would make it unlawful for any place or provider of public accommodation to use biometric recognition technology to verify or identify a customer. It would also require places or providers of public accommodation to notify customers if biometric identifier information is collected and to require written consent before any biometric recognition technology could be used. Also, the bill would require any such information collected to be protected and for written policies regarding its use to be made available.

SPONSORS: Councilmembers Hanif, Gutierrez, Rivera, Williams, Sanchez, Louis, Marte and Farias.

REBNY believes that additional clarity is required for this legislation. REBNY agrees that for any biometric recognition technology to be utilized, consent should be required regarding those whose information could be collected or retained. In addition, appropriate transparency and data retention policies should be required and followed.

As written, Intro 1014 is incredibly broad in scope, and would benefit by more explicitly defining what constitutes a public space. Broadly, a public space is any location with unfettered access by persons known and unknown to the provider. It would behoove the Council to differentiate this type of space from space not typically accessible to the public. Practically, this would allow for such technology to be harnessed to support access to spaces utilized for company employees, with consent, to continue to be utilized.

In addition, REBNY hopes that technology utilized for standard security purposes, such as a security camera, is not included. Precedence for this type of clarity can be found in a similar statute enacted in recent years in Washington D.C.

Lastly, while the bill states that it is unlawful to use biometric recognition technology, it also requires notification, written consent, protection of stored information and written policies for an unlawful act if biometric recognition technology is utilized. This is in direct contradiction, and clarity is needed. REBNY and its members are happy to assist in suggesting appropriate changes to provide this needed clarity.

BILL: Intro 1024-2023

SUMMARY: This bill would make it unlawful for an owner of a multiple dwelling to install, activate or use any biometric recognition technology that identifies tenants or the guest of a tenant.

SPONSORS: Councilmembers Rivera, Sanchez, Caban, Hanif, Louis, Riley, and Richardson Jordan by the request of Manhattan Borough President Levine.

REBNY believes that Intro 1024 completely prohibiting the use of facial recognition is an over-correction. Instead, the Council should consider an appropriate regulatory framework for technology that can provide significant benefits to a building and its tenants. The use of facial recognition as a means of access control is an emerging technology in both residential and commercial properties. In most instances, it is optional and offered for the convenience of tenants. In all instances, however, REBNY supports the use of best practices relative to transparency and the need for consent, and for data to be retained and disposed of in an appropriate way.

In lieu of banning facial recognition technology in residential settings, REBNY recommends that the Council revisit Local Law 63 of 2021, which requires owners of multiple dwellings that utilize technology like keyless entry systems, to provide tenants with a data retention and privacy policy. The law also established restrictions on the collection and use of data collected, which could be updated to ensure concerns about facial recognition technology are considered. As REBNY worked diligently with then-Councilmember Mark Levine on the legislation that became Local Law 63, we would look forward to continuing this conversation to consider the latest technologies.

Thank you for your consideration of these points.

Topics Covered

  • Housing
  • Business
  • Technology