On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors enacted the first ban by a major city on the use of facial-recognition technology by police and all other municipal agencies.
The San Francisco Police Department and the District Attorney's Office have both said that they now do not use facial recognition software; under the new ordinance they are unlikely to be able to do so without extensive public debate.
"We agree there are problems with facial recognition ID technology and it should not be used today". There are valid reasons for license-plate readers, body cameras, and security cameras, he said, but the public should know how the tools are being used or if they are being abused.
Georgetown University researchers have found that if you're an adult in America, there's more than a 50 percent chance that you're already in a law enforcement facial recognition database, according to The New York Times. It allows continued use of surveillance tools like security cameras; the district attorney or sheriff can make an appeal to use certain restricted technology in exceptional circumstances as well. However, the ordinance carves out an exception for federally controlled facilities at San Francisco International Airport and the Port of San Francisco.
Lawmakers from neighboring Bay-area city Oakland have kicked around the idea of implementing the same type of legislation. "We all support good policing but none of us want to live in a police state", remarked Aaron Peskin.
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"Facial recognition can be used for general surveillance in combination with public video cameras, and it can be used in a passive way that doesn't require the knowledge, consent, or participation of the subject", the American Civil Liberties Union said at its website. Privacy and civil-rights advocates have anxious that the capability could be misused for mass surveillance and possibly lead to more false arrests.
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonprofit think tank based in Washington, D.C., issued a statement chiding San Francisco for considering the facial recognition ban.
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".
"In reality, San Francisco is more at risk of becoming Cuba than China - a ban on facial recognition will make it frozen in time with outdated technology", he said. The non-profit includes technology industry representatives on its board.
And while Stop Crime SF sees the faults in existing facial-recognition technology, it's also concerned about prohibiting its use entirely. "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". The group believes a moratorium on using it might be a better option so that it's possible to use the technology when it improves.