USA: San Francisco bans facial recognition technology due to privacy concerns

In May 2019, San Francisco became the first city in the US to ban city use of facial recognition surveillance technology in order to help prevent abuse of the right to privacy. Under this legislation, city departments also need 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. Some critics have said that the city should have crafted regulation that acknowledges the potential benefits of the technology instead. 

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Article
16 May 2019

Commentary: San Francisco is right: facial recognition must be put on hold

Author: Farhad Manjoo, New York Times

... San Francisco's board of supervisors voted to ban the use of facial-recognition technology by the city's police and other agencies. Oakland and Berkeley are also considering bans, as is the city of Somerville, Mass... Two new reports by Clare Garvie, a researcher who studies facial recognition at Georgetown Law... uncovered municipal contracts indicating that law enforcement agencies in Chicago, Detroit and several other cities are moving quickly, and with little public notice, to install... "real time" facial recognition systems... researchers discovered that [Detroit] signed a $1 million deal with DataWorks Plus, a facial recognition vendor, for software that allows for continuous screening of hundreds of private and public cameras set up around the city... [Ms. Garvie said] "Face recognition gives law enforcement a unique ability... to conduct biometric surveillance — the ability to see not just what is happening on the ground but who is doing it... We've never been able to take mass fingerprint scans of a group of people in secret... Now we can with face scans."

... The most troubling thing about all of this is that there are almost no rules governing its [facial recognition's] use. [P]eople are being arrested, charged and convicted based on similar practices in face searches. And because there are no mandates about what defendants and their attorneys must be told about these searches, the police are allowed to act with impunity... None of this is to say that facial recognition should be banned forever. The technology may have some legitimate uses. 

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Article
14 May 2019

San Francisco bans city use of facial recognition surveillance technology

Author: Trisha Thadani, San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco became the first city in the [US] to ban city use of facial recognition surveillance technology... a groundbreaking move that privacy advocates applaud, but others say may go too far. The legislation... also will 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... The ordinance passed the board 8-1.

... The San Francisco Police Department estimated it would take between two and four full-time employees to comply with the new ordinance. And even though the department says it does not currently use facial recognition technology, it may no longer acquire it in the future. The airport and port would be exempt from the ban, as they are federally regulated... “We agree there are problems with facial recognition ID technology and it should not be used today,” Joel Engardio, [Stop Crime SF] vice president said... “But the technology will improve and it could be a useful tool for public safety when used responsibly and with greater accuracy. We should keep the door open for that possibility.”... [F]acial recognition is becoming increasingly common, it is still expensive and has been blamed for major inaccuracies, particularly when identifying minorities.

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