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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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face recognition software
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)

Next Story

Seattle Airport To Introduce Facial-Recognition Technology For Travellers

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) will introduce facial-recognition technology

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Seattle Airport
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) will introduce facial-recognition technology for international travellers. Wikimedia Commons

The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) in the US state of Washington will introduce facial-recognition technology for international travellers by the year end, a Seattle-based newspaper has reported.

Travellers of the US Delta Air Lines, Sea-Tac’s second-largest carrier, will be able to board a plane by scanning their faces at the airport to speed up the boarding process, after their faces match with their visa or passport photos stored in the database of the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), The Seattle Times said.

The newspaper said Delta, which will become the first air carrier to adopt the new technology, is planning to use facial-recognition cameras to confirm international travellers’ identities at its Sea-Tac gates in late December 2019, Xinhua news agency reported on Sunday.

Airport technology
The Seattle Airport will be the first one in USA that will have a facial-recognition camera by the year end. Pixabay

Delta has installed facial-recognition cameras in six airports in the country, and insisted that the new technology was aimed to deliver better customer service “by eliminating the need to juggle luggage, passports and boarding passes.”

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The Seattle daily said a five-member commission will meet in mid-December to vote on principles concerning the use of facial recognition at Sea-Tac. (IANS)