Facial recognition on the chopping block in San Francisco

Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — An ordinance that would ban the use of facial recognition technology among city departments passed San Francisco’s Rules Committee Monday and is now headed for a full vote in the board of supervisors. 

The bill, introduced in January, would be the first of its kind, according to author of the legislation, Supervisor Aaron Peskin. 

When the bill was introduced, Peskin said via Twitter, “The facial recognition ban would be the first of its kind in the country, intended to protect some of our most vulnerable communities from inaccurate/unfair profiling.”

The legislation would also require public notice of use of the software and city agencies to get approval from the board of supervisors before obtaining surveillance technology. 

The bill has garnered support from several civil rights and advocacy groups, including the ACLU of Northern California and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (SF-Bay Area).

In reaction to the bill passing in a committee vote Monday, an attorney for the ACLU said, “The ACLU applauds the Rules Committee for passing this ordinance and urges the full Board of Supervisors to do the same. Democratic oversight of surveillance technology promotes public safety and protects our civil rights. With this law, San Francisco can demonstrate real tech leadership by giving our communities a seat at the table, and the power to create safeguards to prevent misuse.”

The ordinance passed unanimously Monday within the three-person rules committee and is now headed for a full board of supervisors vote on May 14. 

Facial recognition technology has inspired debate about bias and privacy — with some supporters of San Francisco’s ordinance saying the technology often operates out of public sight and collects personal information without the approval of residents.

In a letter to San Francisco legislators last month, advocates for Peskin’s ordinance said law enforcement agencies in the Bay Area have used surveillance systems without oversight policies — which they argue can put certain residents in harms way. In the letter, supporters say the bill offers transparency and protects residents from bias. 

Amazon is at the forefront of facial recognotion technology, creating a product which has been marketed to law enforcement and government agencies, according to the New York Times

The San Francisco ordinance is slated for another vote later this month. 

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