Face recognition: San Francisco becomes first USA city to ban technology

15 May, 2019, 13:37 | Author: Wade Massey
  • San Francisco May Ban Facial Recognition Technology

San Francisco's local government has voted to ban the use of facial recognition software by police and other city departments, becoming the first U.S. city to outlaw a rapidly developing technology that has alarmed privacy and civil liberties advocates.

San Francisco's ban covers government agencies, including the city police and county sheriff's department, but doesn't affect the technology that unlocks your iPhone or cameras installed by businesses or individuals.

The ban was part of broader legislation setting use and auditing policy for surveillance systems, creating high hurdles and requiring board approval for any city agencies.

The vote was 8 to 1, with Supervisor Catherine Stefanie saying she could not vote for legislation that was well-intentioned, but could compromise public safety.

"The propensity for facial recognition technology to endanger civil rights and civil liberties substantially outweighs its purported benefits, and the technology will exacerbate racial injustice and threaten our ability to live free of continuous government monitoring", read the legislation.

A similar ban is being considered in the nearby city of Oakland.

In one form or another, facial recognition is already being used in many US airports and big stadiums, and by a number of other police departments.

Web developer and technologist Chris Garaffa told Sputnik Tuesday, "The ordinance has some of the strongest language regarding the dangers of the technology: that it is a threat to First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, that surveillance has historically targeted poor and minority neighborhoods, and that it is a threat to us all".

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The aim of the restriction is to protect "marginalised groups" that can be harmed by the technology, Peskin said.

Today's ordinance vote only impacts city departments, and private use of such systems will be unaffected - everything from the latest iPhones to companies with their own security systems to Facebook using photos to identify people. "We don't even know what technology we have that is being used for surveillance".

It is also tacks a completely opposite tack to other Western cities like London, which has introduced a vast network of cameras that captures a huge amount of activity going on in the capital.

That is not to say everybody is behind San Francisco's plan.

Peskin said the order was not an anti-technology policy.

San Francisco's police department stopped testing face ID technology in 2017. Oakland is also now considering whether to ban the use of facial-recognition technology.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonprofit think tank based in Washington, D.C., issued a statement chiding San Francisco for considering the facial recognition ban. Frank Noto, president of Stop Crime SF, a group focused on crime prevention, said prior to the vote that his organization recognizes privacy and civil-liberties concerns that may have prompted the ordinance's introduction, but sees it as flawed legislation largely because it requires the police department to get approval from the city for existing surveillance technology. "The failure rate is too high, and so we absolutely agree with the spirit of this law, but instead of a ban, like a forever ban, why not just stop using it for now, and keep the door open for when the technology improves".

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