Face recognition: San Francisco becomes first US city to ban technology

Face recognition: San Francisco becomes first US city to ban technology”

San Francisco is to become the first us city to outlaw a rapidly developing technology that has alarmed privacy and civil-liberties advocates, as the liberal city's supervisors voted Tuesday to ban the use of facial recognition software by police and other city departments.

The proposal, put forward by Supervisor Aaron Peskin, bans city government entities from using the technology, including the police force.

The neighbouring city of Oakland is considering similar legislation. "Big Sister is watching us", she said, "and yet we don't even know how those pictures are being used".

Last month, lawmakers in Olympia failed to agree on a bill that would have regulated the use of facial recognition technology in Washington state.

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. A representative at the meeting said the department would need two to four additional employees in order to comply with the legislation.

The San Francisco proposal, he added, "is really forward-looking and looks to prevent the unleashing of this risky technology against the public".

The ordinance, which also would require city departments to submit surveillance technology policies for public vetting, can become final after a second vote next week by the same officials, the city's Board of Supervisors.

Suffice to say, San Francisco is home to quite a few programmers and other technology workers employed throughout the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, where facial recognition and AI is the tech du jour and exported into markets around the world.

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.

"I worry about politicising these decisions", said supervisor Catherine Stefani, a former prosecutor who was the sole no vote.

It is unclear how many San Francisco departments are using surveillance and for what purposes, Mr Peskin said.

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.

Banning facial recognition would undercut public safety, it argued in June 2018.

Some locals have been vocally opposed to the surveillance ordinance, including several groups of residents.

"Instead of an outright ban, we believe a moratorium would have been more appropriate", said Joel Engardio, vice-president of Stop Crime SF.

In Olympia earlier this year, the discussion was more about how to correctly calibrate regulations on facial recognition and what "consent" should look like when face-conscious cameras are on all the time in public and private settings.

The ban is part of broader legislation requiring city departments to establish use policies and obtain board approval for surveillance technology they want to purchase or have been using.

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