Facial-recognition Technology Banned in San Francisco

San Francisco is the first city in the United States to prohibit its government from using facial-recognition technology.
Published: May 15, 2019

San Francisco, home to some of the biggest tech companies in the world, will now prohibit its government from using facial-recognition technology.

The ban is part of an anti-surveillance ordinance that was approved by the city’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, reports CNN. The ordinance, which will go into effect in a month, outlaws the use of facial-recognition technology by police and other governing departments.

Federally controlled facilities like the San Francisco International Airport or the Port of San Francisco are exempt from the ordinance. Businesses or residents will also be allowed to use facial recognition or surveillance technology.

“We all support good policing but none of us want to live in a police state,” said San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who introduced the bill earlier this year.

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Facial-recognition technology can be used to identify specific people from surveillance footage or live feeds, which can be helpful in large crowds or when comparing features with a set of faces.

Some school districts have started the process of integrating facial recognition technology into its surveillance systems while others are concerned with privacy and civil rights abuse.

Others are concerned about the biases or general accuracy when it comes to facial-recognition technology. When Amazon came out with its facial-detection technology, Amazon Recognition, a team of researchers found it was misidentifying women, especially those with darker skin.

In San Francisco, Peskin is concerned that the technology is “so fundamentally invasive.”

“I think San Francisco has a responsibility to speak up on things that are affecting the entire globe, that are happening in our front yard,” he said.

Matt Cagle, a technology and civil liberties attorney at the ACLU in Northern California said he expects more cities to follow San Francisco’s ban.

“With this vote, San Francisco has declared that face surveillance technology is incompatible with a healthy democracy and that residents deserve a voice in decisions about high-tech surveillance,” he said.

Under the new law, any city department that wants to use surveillance technology must first get approval from the Board of Supervisors. Any city department that already uses surveillance technology will need to tell the board how it is being used.

In a statement, the San Francisco Police Department said it welcomes moves to protect civil liberties and civil rights.

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