San Francisco is first U.S. city to ban facial recognition

San Francisco is first U.S. city to ban facial recognition

All but one of the nine members of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors endorsed the legislation.

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.

Supervisors voted eight to one in favor of the "Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance", which will also strengthen existing oversight measures and will require city agencies to disclose current inventories of surveillance technology.

"The propensity for facial recognition technology to endanger civil rights and civil liberties substantially outweighs its purported benefits, and the technology will exacerbate racial injustice and threaten our ability to live free of continuous government monitoring", read the legislation passed Tuesday.

"For too long we've had this "move fast, break things" model on the public side with surveillance", Hutson added.

While communities at the heart of the technology industry are moving to limit facial recognition, police elsewhere have increased their use, primarily to spot potential suspects in known offender databases after a crime has occurred.

The ban applies to San Francisco police and other municipal departments. 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.

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.

A second reading of the so-called Stop Secretive Surveillance ordinance is expected to be approved at an upcoming board meeting, when it will officially become law.

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. It was during a protest at Amazon headquarters over the company's facial recognition system.

"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", said Matt Cagle from the American Civil Liberties Union in Northern California. Microsoft has urged Congress to regulate the technology, saying companies should not be left to police themselves because of its "broad societal ramifications and potential for abuse". Studies have found that the systems perform less accurately on people of color, raising the risks of misidentification.

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. 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.

In one form or another, facial recognition is already being used in many US airports and big stadiums, and by a number of other police departments.

"When responsibly used, it could be a good public safety tool", Engardio said.

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