San Francisco goes low-tech with ban on face recognition

San Francisco bans city use of facial recognition technology tools

San Francisco May Ban Facial Recognition Technology

San Francisco has become the first major city in America, if not the world, to effectively ban facial recognition technology and other forms of state surveillance.

The 8-to-1 vote by the city's Board of Supervisors will forbid public agencies from using the artificial-intelligence software to find the identity of someone based on a video clip or photograph. The first, and most novel, is an outright ban on all local governmental uses of facial recognition technology.

"The biggest danger is that this technology will be used for general, suspicionless surveillance systems". Recent efforts at facial recognition in London have been marked by their ineffectiveness and false positives - wrongly identifying people as possible suspects.

The ban was part of broader legislation setting use of surveillance systems. However, the ordinance carves out an exception for federally controlled facilities at San Francisco International Airport and the Port of San Francisco.

"We applaud the city for listening to the community, and leading the way forward with this crucial legislation".

Yet AI researchers and civil rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union are particularly concerned about accuracy and bias in facial-recognition systems. Privacy and civil-rights advocates have anxious that the capability could be misused for mass surveillance and possibly lead to more false arrests. 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". California's senate is now considering a bill that would ban police in the state from using biometric technology - such as facial recognition - with body-camera footage.

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The ordinance also states that the city will need to report to the Board of Supervisors each year on whether surveillance equipment and services are being used in the ways for which they were approved, and include details like what data was kept, shared or erased.

Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, said concerns that the US government would use face identification for mass surveillance, like China has, were overblown.

"They're saying, let's basically ban the technology across the board, and that's what seems extreme, because there are many uses of the technology that are perfectly appropriate", Castro told NPR.

Similar legislation is under consideration in nearby Oakland, and Massachusetts Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem introduced a bill that would impose a moratorium on facial recognition software in the state until the technology improves. The tech industry-backed Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) has been arguing against such a ban and pushing back against fears of surveillance for several years with a series of talking points.

And while Stop Crime SF sees the faults in existing facial-recognition technology, it's also concerned about prohibiting its use entirely.

It's unclear how many San Francisco departments are using surveillance and for what purposes, said Peskin. "The public increasingly understands the threat this technology can pose and that isn't what they want".

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