San Francisco bans use of facial recognition technology

San Francisco Becomes First US City To Ban Facial Recognition Software

San Francisco Becomes First US City To Ban Facial Recognition Software

Legislators in San Francisco have voted to ban the use of facial recognition, the first United States city to do so.

Departments will need to get board approval to continue using or acquiring technology. Privacy and civil-rights advocates have anxious that the capability could be misused for mass surveillance and possibly lead to more false arrests.

It did not appear that any sort of ban on taxpayer-funded agencies using facial recognition was likely, but if San Francisco's new ban stands, expect it to be part of the discussion in Olympia next year.

US customs agents are vetting foreign travelers at airports with facial recognition, and other federal agencies use the technology too. Experts say the importance of the ban in the center of America's tech industry can't be overstated, and the precedent set could be far-reaching.

There are now no federal laws addressing how artificial-intelligence technology in general, or facial-recognition systems specifically, can be used, though a Senate bill introduced in March would force companies to get consent from consumers before collecting and sharing identifying data.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a non-profit think tank based in Washington, DC, issued a statement chiding San Francisco for considering the facial recognition ban. 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.

Several other local governments require departments to disclose and seek approval for surveillance technology.

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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. Amazon investors will vote next week on a proposal that could block the company from selling its system, Rekognition, to government agencies. 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. 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".

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. Studies have found that the systems perform less accurately on people of color, raising the risks of misidentification.

"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".

Those in favour of the move said the technology as it exists today is unreliable, and represented an unnecessary infringement on people's privacy and liberty.

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.

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

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