San Francisco Bans City’s Use of Facial Recognition-Based Surveillance

San Francisco Bans City's Use of Facial Recognition-Based Surveillance

City officials in San Francisco have approved a proposed ban on the city’s use of facial recognition, clearing the way for it to become law.

First proposed at the end of January, the legislation is designed to prohibit the use of facial recognition-based surveillance technology by city departments, and requires them to seek approval from the city’s Board of Supervisors before deploying any other new kind of surveillance technology. The ordinance has now been put to an official vote from the Board of Supervisors, passing eight to one. From here, it will go through one more vote before heading to the mayor’s office for signing into law.

The development comes after the California Assembly voted in favor of a bill aimed at banning the use of facial recognition through police body cameras earlier this month, and after a proposed ban on the city’s use of facial recognition in Oakland passed its first legislative hurdle. Considered together with the Illinois Supreme Court’s recent ruling approving the more extensive reading of that state’s privacy protections for citizens’ biometrics, the various legislative efforts in California may signal a broader pushback against the growing pervasiveness of this kind of technology.

Speaking at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting, the author of the facial recognition ban, Supervisor Aaron Peskin, framed his legislation as an effort to avoid oppressive surveillance on the part of the government. “This is really about saying we can have security without being a security state,” he said. “We can have good policing without being a police state.”

There isn’t complete consensus on the issue, of course. Responding to the legislation’s approval in a statement, the vice president of the Stop Crime SF advocacy group suggested that a complete ban of facial recognition was going too far. “We agree there are problems with facial recognition ID technology and it should not be used today,” he wrote. “But the technology will improve and it could be a useful tool for public safety when used responsibly and with greater accuracy.”

Sources: San Francisco Chronicle, TechCrunch

May 17, 2019 – by Alex Perala