San Francisco Becomes First City To Ban Use Of Facial Recognition Technology In Public Places

The measure is expected to officially pass into law after another vote next week. pixinoo/Shutterstock

The tech capital of America has just become the first city in the nation to stop the government from using facial recognition technology in public places and sectors. In an 8-to-1 vote, the city board approved the anti-surveillance ordinance that outlaws use of the tech by government departments and police.

"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," Matt Cagle from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Northern California told BBC News.

"We applaud the city for listening to the community and leading the way forward with this crucial legislation. Other cities should take note and set up similar safeguards to protect people's safety and civil rights."

Facial recognition systems use computer programs to analyze human faces – either in real time or after the fact – and compare against a database of images, according to the ACLU. This can be done using video cameras in streets, public areas, and traffic lights, to name a few, without consent or participation.

Federal agencies such as the San Francisco Airport and the Port of San Francisco can still utilize facial recognition technology. Engel Ching/Shutterstock

Pushback against the ban comes from those who believe that withholding such technologies may bog down law enforcement with extra work, as well as prevent the city from having access to database and software systems that could solve crimes, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Automated facial recognition (AFR) has previously been shown to be effective in fighting criminal acts. An evaluation by South Wales Police in the UK found that having the technology allowed police to identify suspects that they probably would not have otherwise been able to. Over a one-year period, more than 100 arrests and charges were assisted by AFR. Last June, authorities were able to apprehend a suspect involved in a newspaper shooting using the controversial technology.  

San Francisco police do not currently use facial recognition technology, but CNN reports that they did run a test between 2013 and 2017. Fifty-three of the city’s departments will not be able to use it, including the San Francisco Police Department. However, federally controlled facilities at San Francisco International Airport and the Port of San Francisco can still utilize facial recognition technology, as well as businesses and other private systems like security systems and phones.

The San Francisco measure is expected to officially pass into law after another vote next week.

[H/T: San Francisco Chronicle]

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