San Francisco votes to ban city use of facial recognition technology

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San Francisco votes to ban city use of facial recognition technology

San Francisco has become the first U.S. city to ban the use of facial recognition technology by police or other government agencies.

It did not appear that any sort of ban on taxpayer-funded agencies using facial recognition was likely, but if San Francisco's new ban stands, expect it to be part of the discussion in Olympia next year.

It argued that the ordinance "could have unintended consequences that make us less safe by severely curtailing the use of effective traditional video surveillance by burying agencies like the police department in a bureaucratic approval process".

In a statement ahead of the vote, the San Francisco Police Department said it "looks forward" to working with the city's supervisors, the ACLU, and others to develop laws that speak to tech-related privacy worries "while balancing the public safety concerns of our growing, global city". On Capitol Hill, a bill introduced last month would ban users of commercial face recognition technology from collecting and sharing data for identifying or tracking consumers without their consent, although it does not address the government's uses of the technology.

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".

The ban did not include airports or other federally regulated facilities.

He said there were valid reasons for licence-plate readers, body cameras and security cameras, but the public should know how the tools are being used or if they are being abused.

Rather, Peskin said, the aim is to protect "marginalised groups" that could be harmed by the technology.

All but one of the nine members of San Francisco's board of supervisors endorsed the legislation, which will be voted on again next week in a procedural step not expected to change the outcome.

The law could ratchet up tensions on companies such as Amazon who have sought to sell facial-recognition systems to police agencies, citing their potential benefits in finding missing children or pursuing criminals.

No longer allowed in San Francisco.

Similar bans are under consideration in Oakland, California, and in Somerville, Massachusetts, outside of Boston.

But Dave Maas, senior investigative researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, offered a partial list of police departments that he said used the technology, including Las Vegas; San Diego; New York City; Boston; Detroit; Durham, North Carolina; Orlando, Florida; and San Jose, California.

Backers of the legislation argued that using software and cameras to positively identify people is, as city councillor Aaron Peskin put it, "not ready for prime time".

"It shall be unlawful for any department to obtain, retain, access, or use any Face Recognition Technology or any information obtained from Face Recognition Technology", read a graph tucked into the lengthy document.

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

"Instead of an outright ban, we believe a moratorium would have been more appropriate", said Joel Engardio, vice-president of Stop Crime SF.

Both in the private and public sphere there has been pushback against use of the technology.

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