San Francisco bans police use of facial recognition technology


San Francisco officials have voted to ban the use of facial recognition software by police and other city departments.

The decision by the legislative Board of Supervisors makes the Californian city the first in the US to outlaw a rapidly developing technology which has alarmed privacy and civil liberties advocates.

The ban is part of broader legislation that requires city departments to establish usage policies and obtain board approval for surveillance technology they want to purchase, or are using at present.

A number of protests have taken place over facial recognition techniques

Several other local governments require departments to disclose and seek approval for surveillance technology.

City supervisor Aaron Peskin, who championed the legislation, said: “This is really about saying: ‘We can have security without being a security state. We can have good policing without being a police state.’

“And part of that is building trust with the community based on good community information, not on Big Brother technology.”

The ban applies to San Francisco police and other municipal departments. It does not affect the use of the technology by the federal government at airports and ports, nor does it limit personal or business use.

The San Francisco board did not spend time debating the outright ban on facial recognition technology, focusing instead on the possible burdens placed on police, the transit system and other city agencies which need to maintain public safety.

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

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

It said advanced technology makes it cheaper and faster for police to find suspects and identify missing people.

Daniel Castro, the foundation’s vice president, said critics were silly to compare surveillance usage in the US with China, given that one country has strong constitutional protections and the other does not.

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