Public housing facilities are being equipped with surveillance systems despite little evidence that they make communities safer
06/07/2023 // Belle Carter // Views

Local officials in the small city of Steubenville, Ohio are installing a new generation of powerful and pervasive surveillance systems to impose maximum surveillance on some of the neighborhood's least affluent residents, and all the while these same officials claim the new surveillance apparatus will help lessen crime.

This scenario is occurring all across the United States. According to reports, more and more public housing agencies have been purchasing tools such as facial recognition technology and others with artificial intelligence capabilities.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has helped facilitate the purchase of cameras through federal crime-fighting grants meant to keep residents safe. However, a review of court records and interviews with residents, legal aid attorneys and administrators at more than 60 public housing agencies that received the grants reflect that the surveillance tools are also being used to take even the flimsiest evidence to punish and evict public housing residents, regardless of whether or not the purported violations of housing rules were minor.

One incident in Steubenville noted that a man was caught by surveillance systems spitting in a hallway, while one woman was caught removing a cart from a common laundry room. The footage was presented to a judge as evidence for their eviction trials.

Meanwhile, Melanie Otis, 52, also was threatened with eviction when she was filmed lending her key fob to an unauthorized guest. Otis, who has vision loss, was allowed to stay after she explained the visitor was a friend bringing her groceries. (Related: FBI has been testing facial recognition software on Americans for YEARS without their knowledge or consent.)


These kinds of situations are happening all over the country. In Scott County, Virginia, cameras equipped with facial recognition scan everyone walking past them to look for people who were barred from public housing. In New Bedford, Massachusetts, facial recognition software is used to search hours of recordings to find any movement near the doorways of residents suspected of violating overnight guest rules. In tiny Rolette, North Dakota, officials have installed 107 cameras to surveil the movements of a measly 100 public housing residents.

HUD admits facial scanning technology is not foolproof

Critics are sounding off that the risks associated with adopting full-scale surveillance tech at public housing facilities are poorly understood and that very little evidence exists that these smart cameras and facial recognition equipment make communities safer. Still, local officials equipped the facilities despite having no guidance or limits on their use.

The states of Alabama, Colorado and Virginia have already passed laws limiting the use of facial recognition by law enforcement, especially since the tools have been shown to produce false matches – particularly when scanning women and people of color.

Last month, media outlets presented HUD with evidence of the growing use of sophisticated surveillance tools by local housing authorities. It listed Grand Rapids as one of six cities in which "public housing residents are being watched by facial recognition cameras." The Grand Rapids Housing Commission denied the allegation.

Phil Mayor, a senior staff attorney for American Civil Liberties Union Michigan, told News 8 it's clear from the report that facial recognition technology is being used in many cities.

"The Washington Post recorded numerous incidents where people were evicted and faced losing housing because of the most minor possible violations of their lease," Mayor said. "Public housing is supposed to be a helping hand from the government, not a watchful eye oppressing people who need to rely on public housing."

Meanwhile, HUD later said it would no longer permit future recipients to spend security grants on facial recognition.

"These tools are not foolproof and their mistakes can adversely impact public housing residents," Dominique Blom, HUD general deputy assistant secretary of public and Indian housing, said in an interview. "This sends a signal to the housing community that this is the type of technology that the department is cautioning against." has more news related to various surveillance measures.

Watch the documentary below that tackles the dangers of technological advancements in artificial intelligence and data surveillance.

This video is from the TowardsTheLight channel on

More related stories:

Facial recognition program to be rolled out at 16 major US airports, increasing biometric surveillance of Americans.

Fashion company creating clothing line that shields people from AI facial recognition technology.

Fairway grocers in NYC now using facial recognition to profile customers.

AI surveillance tech can find out who your friends are.

Italy bans smart glasses, facial recognition tech after watchdog rebukes local government trials.

Sources include:

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