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SF Bans Police From Using Facial Recognition Tech

16 May 2019

In this October 31 photo, a man has his face painted to represent efforts to defeat facial recognition.

San Francisco is all set to ban the purchase and use of facial recognition technology by officials after a 1-8 vote against the practice by the city's Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Reuters reported. The city's Board of Supervisors will vote on a measure today, and if it votes in favor, several other cities and states could follow.

A 2016 report from CBS says that more and more law enforcement agencies around the country have begun using facial recognition technology to help speed up investigations, and they've pointed out instances where it could have helped when it wasn't available. Researchers have said this service struggles to identify the gender of individuals with darker skin, prompting fears of unjust arrests.

Daniel Castro, vice president of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, said concerns that the USA government would use face identification for mass surveillance, like China has, were overblown. Supervisor Aaron Peskin said that as the policy evolves, the ordinance will be amended.

Web developer and technologist Chris Garaffa told Sputnik Tuesday, "The ordinance has some of the strongest language regarding the dangers of the technology: that it is a threat to First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, that surveillance has historically targeted poor and minority neighborhoods, and that it is a threat to us all". "The failure rate is too high, and so we absolutely agree with the spirit of this law, but instead of a ban, like a forever ban, why not just stop using it for now, and keep the door open for when the technology improves".

"Like the other six Bay Area jurisdictions, San Francisco will benefit from greater public input and transparency into the decision-making process around potentially invasive equipment", Hofer said.

Nevertheless, the vote represents a clear and dramatic position by a city that sits at the heart of the global technology industry and as such is likely to act as a catalyst for other cities worldwide. "We want to use the technology to find missing elderly adults".

Baltimore police used the software during the 2015 riots to identify looting suspects.

Called the Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance, the bill contains two major legislative proposals.

Creem told NPR, "There is concern the system is flawed relative to racial bias, particularly with women of color". In a May 2016 report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office admonished the Federal Bureau of Investigation for failing to disclose the extent to which it uses the technology, and to ensure privacy and accuracy. "Big Sister is watching us", she said, "and yet we don't even know how those pictures are being used".

US customs agents are vetting foreign travelers at airports with facial recognition, and other federal agencies use the technology too.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is now using facial recognition in many U.S. airports and ports of sea entry.

San Francisco's new rule, which is set to go into effect in a month, forbids the use of facial-recognition technology by the city's 53 departments - including the San Francisco Police Department, which doesn't now use such technology but did test it out between 2013 and 2017.

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

SF Bans Police From Using Facial Recognition Tech