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San Francisco Bans Use of Face Recognition Software by Police

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

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This photo taken Tuesday, May 7, 2019, shows a security camera in the Financial District of San Francisco. VOA

San Francisco supervisors voted Tuesday to ban the use of facial recognition software by police and other city departments, becoming the first U.S. city to outlaw a rapidly developing technology that has alarmed privacy and civil liberties advocates.

The ban is part of broader legislation that requires city departments to establish use policies and obtain board approval for surveillance technology they want to purchase or are using at present. Several other local governments require departments to disclose and seek approval for surveillance technology.

“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,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who championed the legislation.

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

face recognition software
The ban is part of broader legislation that requires city departments to establish use policies and obtain board approval for surveillance technology they want to purchase or are using at present. Wikimedia Commons

The San Francisco board did not spend time Tuesday debating the outright ban on facial recognition technology, focusing instead on the possible burdens placed on police, the transit system and other city agencies that need to maintain public safety. “I worry about politicizing these decisions,” said Supervisor Catherine Stefani, a former prosecutor who was the sole no vote.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonprofit think tank based in Washington, D.C., 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.

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

“In reality, San Francisco is more at risk of becoming Cuba than China — a ban on facial recognition will make it frozen in time with outdated technology,” he said.

It’s unclear how many San Francisco departments are using surveillance and for what purposes, said Peskin. There are valid reasons for license-plate readers, body cameras, and security cameras, he said, but the public should know how the tools are being used or if they are being abused.

face recognition software
Several other local governments require departments to disclose and seek approval for surveillance technology. Wikimedia Commons

San Francisco’s police department stopped testing face ID technology in 2017. A representative at Tuesday’s board meeting said the department would need two to four additional employees to comply with the legislation. Privacy advocates have squared off with public safety proponents at several heated hearings in San Francisco, a city teeming with tech innovation and the home of Twitter, Airbnb and Uber.

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Those who support the ban say the technology is flawed and a serious threat to civil liberties, especially in a city that cherishes public protest and privacy. They worry people will one day not be able to go to a mall, the park or a school without being identified and tracked.

But critics say police need all the help they can get, especially in a city with high-profile events and high rates of property crime. That people expect privacy in public space is unreasonable given the proliferation of cellphones and surveillance cameras, said Meredith Serra, a member of a resident public safety group Stop Crime SF. “To me, the ordinance seems to be a costly additional layer of bureaucracy that really does nothing to improve the safety of our citizens,” she said at a hearing. (VOA)

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India Not Prepared To Tackle The Misuse of Facial Recognition Technology

In India, Duggal said, anybody can misuse this technology without fears of facing any adverse legal consequences

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Rana el Kaliouby, CEO of the Boston-based artificial intelligence firm Affectiva, demonstrates the company's facial recognition technology, in Boston, April 23, 2018. VOA

While the usage of facial recognition technology is growing across the world, the absence of any data protection and data privacy law in India makes the country ill-prepared to deal with the misuse of the technology, experts said on Friday.

“There is no legal mechanism to stop misuse of facial recognition technology in India,” Pavan Duggal, one of the nation’s top cyber law experts, told IANS, adding that the Information Technology Act does not specially deal with misuse of this technology.

There is also not any blanket ban on the use of this technology, perhaps because of the benefits that could accrue from the proper usage of the technology that dramatically cuts down the amount of time needed for identifying people or objects in photos and video.

In April last year, for example, Delhi Police could identify almost 3,000 missing children in just four days during a trial of a facial recognition system.

While the benefits of the technology for law enforcement agencies in fighting crime and identifying missing people and also for the industry for business purposes cannot be denied, it is the misuse of the technology that can put the citizens of the country in trouble.

“The first casualty of the absence of regulatory framework for facial recognition technology is people’s right to privacy,” Duggal said.

“In India, there is not even any framework to regulate the storage of facial recognition data. Cybercriminals are taking advantage of the situation and they are making such data available on the Dark Net,” he added.

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A U.S. Customs and Border Protection facial recognition device is ready to scan another passenger at a United Airlines gate. VOA

Some of the major technology giants including Microsoft and Amazon also agree that there is a need for governments to regulate this technology.

In a blog post in December 2018, Microsoft President Brad Smith pointed out that certain uses of this technology can increase the risk of biased decisions and outcomes, intrusions into people’s privacy and also encroach on democratic freedoms if the technology is used for mass surveillance.

While defending its own facial recognition technology Rekognition, saying there has been not a single report of misuse of the technology by law enforcement, Amazon Web Services (AWS) on Friday said it also supports the creation of a legislative framework covering facial recognition through video and photographic monitoring on public or commercial premises.

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In India, Duggal said, anybody can misuse this technology without fears of facing any adverse legal consequences.

“Here law has not been able to protect the citizen,” he said, adding that self-regulation of facial recognition will not be effective.

“The quicker we are able to provide effective legal mechanism to regulate facial recognition technology, better it is for the country and its citizens,” Duggal added. (IANS)