NYC legislators oppose facial recognition for shoplifting

  • Lawmakers proposed a pair of bills aimed at curbing facial recognition use
  • Critics fear it’s a step towards racially profiling shoppers via surveillance
  • Businesses argue it protects their employees and saves money

NEW YORK (NewsNation) — Retailers across New York City are using facial recognition systems in their stores, but it’s leading to pushback amid a battle between privacy and security and lawmakers are considering banning the technology as businesses try to combat shoplifting.

Data from NYPD shows retail thefts are down nearly 2% compared to the first six months of 2022 and 2023. But for small business owners, grocery store chains and big box stores the shoplifters are relentless, and those businesses are fighting back using high-tech methods.

Morton Williams is one of many New York City grocery stores using facial recognition technology to fight crime. It’s capturing images of repeated thieves and loading them into a database that’s used for facial recognition software.

The software will inform store security immediately when a known thief walks into the store, but the high-tech security measure is getting pushback from New York City Council members.

Critics said it unfairly targets people of color, opening the door for harassment and discrimination.

Council members want to pass legislation that would ban the use of facial recognition software and biometric technology to verify or identify a customer inside a store and collect the information. It would also require businesses to get consent from someone before storing their image in a database.

Another bill prohibits residential landlords from using facial recognition and biometric technology to identify tenants and guests. Residents have raised concerns against landlords attempting to install biometric tools like fingerprint entry systems.

At a rally last month outside city hall, protesters argued facial recognition technology as a crime-fighting tool is flawed.“We know that facial recognition tools, disproportionately target women who are darker- skinned, and Black women in particular,” said New York City Councilwoman Shana Hanif.

“It’s time for New York to catch up with other cities around the country that have already banned facial recognition, such as Boston, San Francisco and Portland,” said Derek Perkinson of the National Action Network.

Security experts have said claims of racial profiling with the technology are overexaggerated because those issues have been addressed. They also say the technology is more accurate and store owners say outlawing the technology will take away a valuable tool they need to fight theft.

Last year, James Dolan, the owner of Madison Square Entertainment and Radio City Music Hall, is accused of using facial recognition to identify a woman walking into the hall with her daughter for a show and ordering security to ban her immediately because she worked for a law firm that had pending litigation against his company.

Lawmakers have used that incident as an example of why facial recognition technology needs more restrictions.


Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending on NewsNation