San Francisco Becomes First US City to Ban Use of Facial Recognition Technology

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has enacted to ban the use of facial recognition technology by police and all other municipal agencies

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Legislators in San Francisco have voted to ban the use of facial recognition, the first US city to do so. The ban is part of a broader anti-surveillance ordinance that the city’s Board of Supervisors approved on Tuesday. Eight of the board’s 11 supervisors voted in favor of it; one voted against it, and two who support it were absent.

The 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 currently use such technology but did test it out between 2013 and 2017. However, the ordinance carves out an exception for federally controlled facilities at San Francisco International Airport and the Port of San Francisco.

The ordinance does not prevent businesses or residents from using facial recognition or surveillance technology in general – such as on their own security cameras.

Opponents of the measure said it will put people’s safety at risk and hinder efforts to fight crime. Those in favor of the move said the technology as it exists today is unreliable and represented an unnecessary infringement on people’s privacy and liberty. In particular, opponents argued the systems are error-prone, particularly when dealing with women or people with darker skin.

The legislation, written by Supervisor Aaron Peskin, will also force city departments to disclose what surveillance technology they currently use – and seek approval from the Board of Supervisors on any new technology that either collects or stores someone’s data.

“This is really about saying we can have security without being a security state. We can have good policing without being a police state,” Peskin said at Tuesday’s board meeting. “Part of that is building trust with the community.”


[Sources: CNN Business, BBC News, San Francisco Chronicle]