SF Bans Police From Using Facial Recognition Tech

San Francisco May Ban Facial Recognition Technology

San Francisco Passes First Municipal Facial Recognition Tech Ban in US

In this October 31 photo, a man has his face painted to represent efforts to defeat facial recognition.

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.

San Francisco is to become the first USA city to outlaw a rapidly developing technology that has alarmed privacy and civil-liberties advocates, as the liberal city's supervisors voted Tuesday to ban the use of facial recognition software by police and other city departments.

The bill had four co-sponsors, but passed the 11-person body with a vote of eight to one; two lawmakers were absent, the New York Times reported.

Governments have used the technology for several years, and the software can assist with efforts to find missing children, for example, or prevent driver's license fraud. In a study published earlier this year by the MIT Media Lab, researchers found facial analysis software made mistakes when identifying people's gender if they were female or darker-skinned, according to The Verge.

"Nevertheless, it's a positive development and will require San Francisco residents to make sure their voices are heard in the required public comment process before any such technology is acquired".

"Instead of an outright ban, we believe a moratorium would have been more appropriate", said Joel Engardio, vice-president of Stop Crime SF. "We don't even know what technology we have that is being used for surveillance".

Those who support the ban say facial recognition technology is not only flawed, but a serious threat to civil rights.

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. "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".

Creem told NPR, "There is concern the system is flawed relative to racial bias, particularly with women of color".

"I think part of San Francisco being the real and perceived headquarters for all things tech also comes with a responsibility for its local legislators", Peskin, who represents neighborhoods on the northeast side of the city, said.

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. Amazon employees and investors alike have put extensive pressure on the internet giant to end its partnerships with police forces to use its "Rekognition" software.

"San Francisco and the greater Silicon Valley area are important test beds for this sort of legislation due to their proximity to a large number of technology companies that develop and sell surveillance tools of all kinds to governments", Garaffa noted.

"Face recognition is one of those technologies that people get how creepy it is", Alvaro Bedoya, who directs Georgetown University's Center on Privacy and Technology, told AP Tuesday. This has added momentum to the effort in San Francisco and to a parallel ban reportedly in the works in nearby Oakland. He told NPR, "The government has no business tracking when we leave our homes, when we go to a park or place of worship, and that's the sort of power that facial recognition technology gives the government".

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