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NYC is again considering banning biometric technology for businesses and residential buildings

The New York City Council discussed two pieces of legislation during an oversight hearing on Monday that would ban businesses such as music venues, theaters and supermarkets from using biometric recognition technology to identify customers, and ban the technology in residential buildings.

The proposed local laws are repeats of bills heard by the council’s Technology Committee last year that would also have imposed restrictions on the use of biometric surveillance and data collection across the city. But Councilor Shahana Hanif, the lead sponsor of legislation to ban companies from using the technology, said renewed concerns – including the impact of biometric data collection, the data stored in security and the role of the Cyber ​​Command and the City’s Office of Technology and Innovation. in leading that effort – make passing the laws all the more urgent.

“Since this bill was heard last session, there have been numerous developments that have made passage of this bill more urgent than ever, including wrongful arrests and data breaches – but the event that stands out most to me is the Federal Trade Commission. found in December that the pharmacy chain RiteAid used facial recognition technology to falsely and disproportionately identify thousands of people of color and women as likely shoplifters, including those right here in New York City,” Hanif said at the hearing.

Kelly Moan, the city’s chief information security officer and head of the New York City Cyber ​​Command, testified before the committee about the initiatives her office has launched for city agencies to address concerns about the risks of collecting sensitive data, such as biometrics, to dispel. She said her office is also working with the city’s critical infrastructure partners, mainly private entities such as banks, hospitals and utilities, to provide training on protecting the data they collect and store.

“Having strong partnerships prior to an incident across many different industries is essential, and cybersecurity is a team sport and New York City Cyber ​​Command is just one part of that team,” Moan said.

Moan said legislation regarding the use of biometric technology in residential buildings falls outside the purview of the city’s Office of Technology and Innovation, but said the proposal to ban companies from using biometric data explicitly excludes government agencies that use biometric data or collect.

“While OTI cannot take a position on these bills, we want to underscore the administration’s commitment to working with the City Council to ensure the right balance between privacy and public safety within the emerging technology,” she said.

Councilwoman Jennifer Gutierrez, chair of the technology committee, said the committee was disappointed with Moan’s inability to provide specific information about the actions her office is taking to protect city and critical infrastructure systems. Several committee members said that while they understood the need for confidentiality regarding certain security details, the lack of substantive responses was concerning.

Jake Parker, spokesperson for the Security Industry Association – a nonprofit trade association of companies that provide security and safety products and services, including biometric technologies, across the U.S. – also testified that banning biometric technology completely would do more harm than good .

Parker said the city could use biometric technologies and prioritize safety, justice and ethics, while taking care not to discriminate. He pointed out how widely the technology has been used over the past year since the City Council considered measures to ban it, including in sports arenas, concert halls and some express checkouts at supermarkets.

“As prepared, Int. No. 217 would simply prohibit most uses of biometric technologies by businesses and consumers, regardless of their purpose and whether it is part of a service requested or agreed to by an individual,” Parker’s testimony reads. “This would (1) deprive consumers of the choice to use more secure and convenient methods to verify their identity and (2) place unnecessary restrictions on the methods New Yorkers can use to protect themselves and their property.”

Parker also noted that biometric laws could potentially devastate small businesses, pointing to laws in other states with a private right of action, such as the Illinois Biometric
Data Protection Act, which is similar to New York law.

New York law specifies that companies that require biometric technology to perform core functions — such as a custom running shoe store that performs gait analysis on its customers with their consent — would be allowed to do so. But companies that collect biometric data should protect it and publish policies on its use.

“Implementations of that (biometric technology) are completely voluntary, so you’re basically just taking away something that they’re using for convenience and for greater security,” Parker told StateScoop.

Keely Quinlan

Written by Keely Quinlan

Keely Quinlan reports on privacy and digital government for StateScoop. She was an investigative reporter at Clarksville Now in Tennessee, where she lives, and her reporting included local crimes, courts, public education and public health. Her work has appeared in Teen Vogue, Stereogum and other media. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s degree in social and cultural analysis from New York University.

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