- The ban is a first of its kid
- Other cities are likely to follow suit
- Privacy advocates want an end to the creeping surveillance culture
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has voted to ban the use of facial recognition by government agencies. The ban is the first-of-its-kind measure in the United States of America.
Ban Covers Government Agencies
The Supervisors, according to The New York Times, voted 8-1 on the measure on Tuesday, May 14, 2019, an action that other cities are likely to follow. The ban covers all government agencies such as the police and county sheriff’s department but excludes cameras installed by individuals and businesses as well the technology that unlocks your iPhone. Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who championed the bill stated:
“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.”
Technology May Not Be As Accurate
The ban is part of a broader package of rules that supervisor Aaron Peskin introduced last January that will require agencies to receive approval from the board before they can acquire surveillance technology and they must publicly disclose their intended use. It is already expected that in the coming weeks the initiative to ban facial-recognition technology will be implemented in Oakland and Somerville, Massachusetts.
Facial-recognition is oftentimes used by law enforcement officers to spot fraud besides identifying suspects but according to its critics, new developments such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) have transformed what would have been a good thing into a dangerous tool that enables real-time surveillance. However, studies conducted by MIT and Georgetown research teams shows that the technology may not be as accurate at identifying people of color as it is touted to be and could automate biases in already pervasive law enforcement.
Regulations Will Address Concerns
According to privacy advocates, the banning of facial recognition presents a unique opportunity that ensures that technology is stopped before it becomes too entrenched. Attorney Brian Hofer of Oakland’s Privacy Advisory Commission which spearheaded the legislation in San Francisco stated:
“We’re doing it now before the genie gets out of the bottle.”
The San Francisco ban comes amongst a series of proposals highlighting the tension between the city and technology companies based there.
Facial recognition technology has improved at lightning speed in the wings of emerging technologies like machine learning, cloud computing, and precise digital cameras. Peskin believes the new regulations will address concerns about the accuracy of the technology and end the creeping surveillance culture. He told the Guardian:
“We are all for good community policing but we don’t want to live in a police state. At the end of the day it’s not just about a flawed technology. It’s about the invasive surveillance of the public commons.”