Facial Recognition Shows Up in Public Housing, Small Cities

By Jim Nash

The race to make biometric surveillance commonplace is only getting faster, with systems going up in public housing and municipalities far from city crime.

With the growth comes a mission that residents worldwide have often been told is off the table, that of the all-seeing, always analyzing sentinel that never stops recording what happens in the community.

The issue is again in the news, this time following a lengthy article in The Washington Post reporting on facial recognition systems being used in United States public housing.

Also, Context, a Thomson Reuters Foundation analytical publication, has shown how surveillance vendors are selling smaller cities on big-city facial recognition systems – and how residents are being cajoled into linking their own cameras to police networks.

Post reporters said they found six public housing centers whose boards have purchased surveillance cameras and computer servers. Some of those on the list also use biometric surveillance algorithms.

They were the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing, Omaha Housing, Scott County (Virginia) Redevelopment & Housing, Jefferson County (Ohio) Housing and Grand Rapids (Michigan) Housing agencies.

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Verkada’s cameras are in Cincinnati, Scott County and Jefferson County systems are in Omaha and IndigoVision is selling to Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids is one of the sites that have the relevant hardware but not the biometric software yet. A housing official there has told reporters they have the capability for intensive identification, but, “at this point, we do not feel it is necessary.”

While public housing residents are quoted by the Post opposing cameras, especially those that only ever seem to capture residents committing minor lease infractions in common areas, there are those who told reporters they would be happy if more cameras went up.

In some cases, it might be physically impossible to put up more cameras on a per-resident basis.

The Post says there is one camera in New York City public house for every 19 residents and one for every 20 visitors to the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The appropriateness of that coverage can be debated, but, according to the paper, there is one camera in Rolette, N.D., public housing for every 1.1 resident. Rikers Island prison in New York only has one camera for every two inmates.

Even small cities and suburbs might never be able to reach that level of surveillance saturation, but assuming community leaders do want that, they can just ask people give police access to home and business cameras.

Context reports on Rialto, Calif., leaders who agreed in 2019 to do what they could to link private surveillance feeds to police systems. They bought products from Fusus, which specializes in linkage subscriptions.

Some successful campaigns to increase surveillance to big city proportions are being clinched by playing on often-overstated fears of crime even as crime levels remain low.

In any case, it appears that there are many markets to explore outside of city centers.

Source: Biometric Update

Jim Nash is a business journalist. His byline has appeared in The New York Times, Investors Business Daily, Robotics Business Review and other publications. You can find Jim on LinkedIn.

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