San Francisco votes to ban city use of facial recognition technology

Lester Mason
May 16, 2019

San Francisco lawmakers voted Tuesday to make its city the first in the country to outlaw facial recognition technology. Several other local governments require departments to disclose and seek approval for surveillance technology.

"This is not an anti-technology policy", said Aaron, acknowledging that many tools used by law enforcement are vital for the city's security but facial recognition technology is "uniquely unsafe and oppressive". There are valid reasons for license-plate readers, body cameras, and security cameras, he said, but the public should know how the tools are being used or if they are being abused. The Department of Homeland Security said last month that it wanted 97 percent of all departing air travelers to undergo a facial-recognition scan by 2023.

Civil rights and privacy advocates like the ACLU and those in favor of this move have pushed the notion that facial recognition technology is unreliable and can be misused for mass surveillance, infringe on people's privacy and liberty, and possibly lead to more false arrests, while opponents of the bill claim it will create hurdles in fighting crime and put people's safety at risk. "Other states and cities outside of California are considering similar rules. We can have good policing without being a police state.' And part of that is building trust with the community based on good community information, not on Big Brother technology", the supervisor Aaron Peskin, who championed the legislation, said on Tuesday.

In San Francisco, Peskin is concerned that the technology is "so fundamentally invasive" that it shouldn't be used.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates Americans' attitudes towards facial recognition. Privacy and civil-rights advocates have anxious that the capability could be misused for mass surveillance and possibly lead to more false arrests.

Cagle and other experts said that it was hard to know exactly how widespread the technology was in the U.S. "Good oversight and proper guidance can ensure that police and other government agencies use facial recognition appropriately".


"We could have gotten the match in seconds", said Benji Hutchinson, who worked for a facial recognition software company at the time of the report. "These are very reasonable uses of the technology, and so to ban it wholesale is a very extreme reaction to a technology that many people are just now beginning to understand".

ITIF's VP Daniel Castro also told reporters this week that San Francisco ban was going too far and that "an across-the-board ban on something that has some beneficial uses is very misguided and hurts the citizens and the police from using it in beneficial ways".

Nevertheless, the vote represents a clear and dramatic position by a city that sits at the heart of the global technology industry and as such is likely to act as a catalyst for other cities worldwide.

Called the Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance, the bill contains two major legislative proposals.

And while Stop Crime SF sees the faults in existing facial-recognition technology, it's also concerned about prohibiting its use entirely. "The public increasingly understands the threat this technology can pose and that isn't what they want".

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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