Cameras Facial Recognition Watch over Public Housing

Eyes on the Poor: Cameras, Facial Recognition Watch over Public Housing

Local officials made a promise that the new surveillance system would help quell a gang war that threatened this forgotten steel town when they installed it. But the Steubenville public housing residents soon discovered that the cameras were focused on them.

A man was seen spitting in a hallway on camera. An image of a woman taking a cart out of a shared laundry room was captured. In both instances, video evidence was used to support the residents’ eviction in court.

Melanie Otis, 52, was additionally warned that she would be evicted after the cameras caught her lending her key fob to an uninvited visitor. After she clarified that the visitor was a friend bringing her groceries, she allowed Otis, who is blind, to stay.

In public housing facilitiesacross America, local officials are installing a new generation of powerful and pervasive surveillance systems, imposing an outsize level of scrutinyon some of the nation’s poorest citizens. Even though the risks are poorly understood and there is scant evidence that they make communities safer, housing agencies have been purchasing the tools—some of which are outfitted with facial recognition and other artificial intelligence capabilities—with no guidelines or restrictions on their use.

Scott County, Virginia, is remote., cameras equipped with facial recognition scan everyone who walks past them,looking for people barred from public housing. In New Bedford, Massachusetts, software searches hours of recordings for any movement near the doorways of residents who may be breaking the rules against overnight guests. Additionally, in the small North Dakota town of Rolette., public housing officials have installed 107 cameras to watch up to 100 residents — a number of cameras per capitaapproaching that found in The Rikers Island prison complex in New York.

By providing grants for federal crime-fighting initiatives, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development assisted in making the purchase of cameras possible. Housing authorities assert that the grants accomplish their intended goal of making residents safer. But the cameras are also being used to generate evidenceto punish and evict public housing residents, sometimes for minor violations of housing rules, according to interviews with residents and legal aid attorneys, a review of court records, and interviews and correspondence with administrators at more than 60 public housing agencies that received the grants in 27 states.

No information is available regarding the frequency of this use of the cameras. But the previously unreported practice highlights how efforts to make public housing safer are subjecting many of the 1.6 million Americans who live there — overwhelmingly people of color— to round-the-clock surveillance. Ex-tenants who are evicted may have a lifetime of difficulty locating housing and a job.

In an email, HUD spokeswomanChristina Wilkessaid the agency never intended its safety and security grants to be used to punish residents for lease violations. But she added that suchusage “is not a violation of the grant terms.”

Read More: Can Security Cameras See Inside Cars?

Source: washingtonpost

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