The city of San Francisco is considering banning the use of facial-recognition technology by its government. If passed, it will make San Francisco the first city in the United States to outlaw the use of such technology by the police and other government departments. The city’s Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the measure this week.
San Francisco has been one of the most tech-friendly and tech-savvy cities in the world. It is also one of the most liberal when it comes to personal freedoms. San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who introduced the measure earlier this year, said, “We all support good policing but none of us want to live in a police state.”
The ban on the use of facial-recognition systems is part of a broad anti-surveillance ordinance being debated by the Board of Supervisors. Under the proposed ordinance, city departments have to get approval from the Board of Supervisors to use any surveillance technology or services. Part of that approval process would be a public hearing detailing how and why the technology is being used. Another provision would require the city to report to the Board of Supervisors each year on its use of surveillance equipment and services.
As far as facial-recognition technology is concerned, the San Francisco law forbids the city’s 53 departments from using it. That includes the San Francisco Police Department. While the police department is not currently using this type of technology, it did carry out tests of the technology between 2013 and 2017. Federally controlled facilities at San Francisco International Airport and the Port of San Francisco are exempted from the proposed rules.
Facial-recognition systems are increasingly used in places where large amounts of people may pass through or gather. In a typical facial-recognition system, facial features are analyzed and then compared with labeled faces in a database. They can identify specific people from live video feeds, recorded video footage, or still photos.