Testimony of NYS Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh Before the New York City Council Housing and Buildings Committee

Regarding Intro. 374A: Regulating the Use of Electronic Access Systems
June 28, 2007

My name is Brian Kavanagh and I represent the 74th Assembly District, which includes the Lower East Side, Union Square, Gramercy, Stuyvesant Town, Peter Cooper Village, Waterside Plaza, Kips Bay, Murray Hill, and Tudor City. I want to thank Chairperson Dilan and the members of the committee – especially my Councilmember, Rosie Mendez – for the opportunity to testify today. I’d also like to express my appreciation to Councilmember Dan Garodnick for sponsoring Intro. 374A and for his advocacy on behalf of tenants regarding the issues raised by electronic access systems.

I would like to express my strong support for the Committee’s decision to take up this issue and my hope that the Council will enact strict regulation of the use of personalized electronic entry cards in residential settings. The issues that Councilmember Gardonick’s bill would address are very serious concerns for many of my constituents in the 74th Assembly District, especially those of Stuyvesant Town, Peter Cooper Village, and Waterside Plaza. As you know, electronic access cards are in use in each of these complexes, over the objection of many of the residents. My office receives numerous phone calls and correspondence expressing great concern from residents regarding their ability to access their own homes without compromising their privacy. Tenants are apprehensive about the ability of electronic systems to collect personal data, particularly data on when they enter their homes and monitoring of their guests. I share their concerns and believe that keycard systems that track personal information represent a clear danger to people’s privacy, in the setting where we ought to have the greatest expectation of privacy, our own homes.

The landlords who have implemented these systems on the eastside of Manhattan have asserted that they have done so in an effort to improve the security of residents. However, this rationale does not justify the collection and retention of personal data on residents and their legitimate guests. Landlords and tenants have a common interest in ensuring that intruders are not allowed to enter buildings. But key card systems do not track the time and date that trespassers enter buildings. They only track the movement of legitimate tenants and their guests. There is very little chance that tracking the precise time of day that a resident chooses to enter his or her own home – or the precise time that a caregiver comes to check on a sick relative – will help prevent or solve a crime.

For those of you on the committee who do not have a lot of high-rise multiple dwellings in your districts, I would ask you to imagine how you might react if your local neighborhood watch decided to station an observer outside your home to create a database recording the name and other personal information of each person who entered your home, along with the date and time. Not only the time you decide to come home each day, but also the time your teenage sons and daughters come home in the evening, the identity and work schedules of people who care for your children or your aging parents, perhaps even the identity and frequency of visits of someone with whom you choose to have a romantic relationship and to whom you’ve chosen to give your house keys. In this circumstance, you might be skeptical if the guys parked in front of your house 24 hours a day told you that you should trust them that they are only there to enhance your security. And you might think that any benefit that comes with their presence is outweighed by the invasion of your privacy and that of your family. This scenario might sound far-fetched, but this kind of 24-hour monitoring is exactly what landlords are doing to tenants in my district. And for those of you who have multiple dwellings in your district but do not yet have keycard systems that monitor tenants, you can be confident that they’re coming soon to your communities.

In Albany, I have introduced a bill that would prohibit landlords from implementing keycard systems that track personal information without tenants’ consent. I am happy to report that the Assembly passed the bill by a vote of 131-16, with the support of a substantial majority of both parties. The bill has not yet been taken up in the State Senate, but I will continue to work with my colleagues in both houses to enact this statewide protection of tenants’ privacy.

Councilmember Garodnick’s bill takes a somewhat different approach than the bill we passed in the Assembly, strictly regulating the handling of data collected by keycards, rather than simply banning collection of personal data. However, I strongly support the Council bill because I think it would greatly enhance the privacy of tenants who are required by their landlords to use keycards. I would urge this committee and the Council to pass this bill as soon as possible—and to ensure that any amendments you might make based on the testimony you hear today do not weaken the privacy protections in the present bill.

Again, thank you for allowing me to testify today and for you consideration of this important legislation. This hearing is a terrific step forward and I look forward to working together with all of you to ensure that we protect the privacy of all New Yorkers, especially the privacy they have a right to expect in their own homes.