Unbridled surveillance of US public housing residents raises human rights concerns
According to an investigation by The Washington Post, a number of public housing facilities across the United States are using federal crime-fighting grants to install pervasive surveillance systems equipped with facial recognition in low income communities. The cameras are being procured and installed without clear guidelines or constraints on their use, and the investigation found that they are effectively facilitating the punishment and eviction of public housing residents, sometimes for minor rule violations. As explained by the article, "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", which raises concerns surrounding the right to privacy and human dignity. For example, "[i]n tiny Rolette, N.D., public housing officials have installed 107 cameras to watch up to 100 residents — a number of cameras per capita approaching that found in New York’s Rikers Island jail complex."
These surveillance systems subject some of the most economically disadvantaged citizens to an excessive level of observation, in a context where facial recognition systems may not be vetted for bias, power imbalances between those being surveilled and those surveilling are stark, and opportunities for remediation if the systems are used improperly may not be available or reliable.
On 17 August 2023, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Panasonic, AXIS Communications, Homeland Safety Systems, Motorola Solutions (which acquired Avigilon and IndigoVision), and Verkada to address allegations that they have not taken sufficient measures to ensure that their products are not improperly used to facilitate surveillance and discrimination of low-income citizens by public housing agencies in the United States. Three of the companies replied (Panasonic Connect. Co., Ltd, Motorola Solutions and AXIS Communications).
Panasonic Connect. Co., Ltd stated that the company "has never manufactured or sold any products with the intention or purpose of promoting discrimination" and that it "places great importance on respect for human rights", but it did not mention any specific steps that were taken to mitigate these concerns. (Note: Panasonic's security camera business is now conducted by the spin-off company i-PRO Corporation)
Motorola Solutions replied stating that the company "has a comprehensive set of policies and procedures that address human rights that are designed to ensure that our operations worldwide are conducted with the highest standards of integrity", but it did not mention any specific steps that have been taken to address the allegations happening where Avigilon and IndigoVision cameras are installed.
AXIS Communications stated that it is "vehemently opposed to any use of our products that violate privacy and human rights" and that they carry out "regular supplier audits, employee and partner trainings, and systematic customer screenings" as they "continue to work hard to find balance between public safety and human rights".