Computers

San Francisco becomes first US city to ban facial recognition technology

San Francisco becomes first US...
A local San Francisco city ordinance also demands city oversight into the deployment of any new surveillance technology by a local law enforcement agency
A local San Francisco city ordinance also demands city oversight into the deployment of any new surveillance technology by a local law enforcement agency
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A local San Francisco city ordinance also demands city oversight into the deployment of any new surveillance technology by a local law enforcement agency
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A local San Francisco city ordinance also demands city oversight into the deployment of any new surveillance technology by a local law enforcement agency

San Francisco has just become the first city in the United States to entirely ban local government and law enforcement uses of facial recognition technology. Although the ordinance is currently limited in its reach, only really applying to city agencies such as the SFPD, it does strictly regulate the future deployment of all kinds of surveillance technology.

Called the Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance, the bill contains two major legislative proposals. The first, and most novel, is an outright ban on all local governmental uses of facial recognition technology. San Francisco is the first city in the country to push the issue this far into an outright ban, although at this stage the prohibition is entirely hypothetical as the city police department does not currently use the technology. The prohibition does not extend to private businesses or areas in the city under federal jurisdiction, such as the airport.

In regard to the somewhat symbolic nature of this prohibition city official Aaron Peskin suggested the ordinance was designed to not only send a message to the entire country, but also to the majority of large tech companies located in the city.

"I think part of San Francisco being the real and perceived headquarters for all things tech also comes with a responsibility for its local legislators," Peskin told The New York Times. "We have an outsize responsibility to regulate the excesses of technology precisely because they are headquartered here."

The second legislative proposal in the Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance lays out a framework for transparency and oversight into the deployment of all general surveillance technologies. This demands government and law enforcement agencies seek approval from the city's Board of Supervisors before any such technological tool is deployed. This second proposal covers everything from police body cameras and automatic license plate readers, to predictive policing software and biometric surveillance systems.

This particular aspect of the ordinance echoes an ongoing project from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called Community Control Over Police Surveillance (CCOPS). This effort was launched back in 2016 in order to legislate public control and transparency over what technologies are used by local law enforcement agencies. To date, over 10 city councils across the US have approved CCOPS legislation with dozens more working on passing the oversight regulations.

Despite the fundamental limitations of this new San Francisco ordinance, it may shine a light on exactly how widespread the use of these new technologies actually is. The use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement agencies in the US is currently booming, with some estimates suggesting the market took in over US$130 million in 2018.

Concerns are being raised that these technologies are being deployed with great secrecy and no oversight. Several instances by privacy advocates to get police departments to reveal exactly what surveillance systems they are using have failed, and police uses of facial recognition technologies do not need to be revealed in court.

9 comments
fb36
IMHO, Facial Recognition & License Plate Scanner techs are immensely beneficial for law enforcement & common good of general public! Imagine a future world where/when law enforcement can quickly find & catch any wanted criminals! Imagine a future world where/when criminals can no longer walk or drive around @ public places/streets! Would not these be immensely beneficial for law enforcement & common good of general public? (License Plate Scanners could also detect drivers who did not pay fines/fees/insurance etc.) (By the way, IMHO, electronic license plates should/must never be allowed to be legal anywhere, because they can be easily reprogrammed later, to defeat License Plate Scanners, by displaying fake license plates!) Facial Recognition tech can also be used for ticketless public transportation & shopping etc, w/o needing to carry money or card etc. Also, Facial Recognition & License Plate Scanner techs are bad/evil, just because, they can do the same job, better (cheaper & more accurately & immensely faster) than any law enforcement people can? What about privacy? IMHO, general public is not really obsessed about privacy, unlike self-appointed "privacy advocates" always claim/pretend! IMHO, the only people who are always really obsessed about "privacy" are criminals & their tireless supporters!
guzmanchinky
You're in public, you have no right to privacy. You drive a vehicle, you have no right to not have your license plate read. If you don't want law enforcement to track you, don't commit crimes.
Uncle Bob
Sorry fb36. You talk of the positive effects of these recognition systems. What hasn't been mentioned is how this technology will be misused. We're all human, good and bad, and those in power have more freedom than most to act on their impulses, doing "favours", getting revenge, and so on. This legislation puts the people back into a state of responsibility for their actions for if their personal power is constantly subverted or controlled by more and more technology then society becomes a superset of fearful, unhappy and self-doubting people. This scenario won't end well as crime will grow. We can already to see the cracks from over-control. We don't need to be held hostage to the dogmatic views of our self-appointed elite. I hope more cities, states, and countries adopt this approach or we'll all end up getting fined for breathing wrong and offensive comments against food. PS: Read George Orwell.
Thinker
As a retired law enforcement officer, I was taught, and still believe in encouraging society’s VOLUNTARY compliance with the rules and laws of our society. I think when we become too legalistic in enforcement, we will become a police state, something I don’t think we want.
ljaques
I'm wondering if this isn't an endrun around ICE to prevent them from catching the illegals in CA. If the cops won't tell them when they're releasing these perps, ICE could just have their scanners let them know when he or she hits the streets again. Or +could+ have, anyway. I have mixed feelings about Big Brother spying on us. On the one hand, it could help cops catch the bad guys. On the other, it could allow misled police departments to catch someone innocently mistaking a pronoun (or, heaven forbid, appropriating culture!), then allow the cops to nab them, too.
aksdad
Because easily identifying the people who befoul the streets and public places in San Francisco with their feces, urine, and garbage is a terrible thing...
rude.dawg
San Francisco is mostly populated by either billionaires whose privacy must be protected at all costs... or homeless people who San Francisco probably doesn't want anyone to know about.
amazed W1
Does this mean that my UK passport will be illegal as an ID if I go to SF? It relies on the facial at the moment, when considerably more effective methods like DNA checks and iris checks, though effective, are just a little bit tedious. And what type of drivers licence will be permissible in SF? It will be interesting to see how the City Fathers react next time there is a big terrorist attack in SF, and the lawyers argue that a journalist taking photos and showing them to the police/FBI or any other enforcement agency, or the agency or the providers of CCTV, (or even an individual) is/are infringing an ordinance as well as the terrorists' human rights. Wring your hands somewhere else, is the politest thing one can say.
Expanded Viewpoint
Yes, fb36, the men and women in charge of using this technology are just soooo over the top morally and ethically superior to the rest of us, that we can trust every last one of them to only do good in the world, right? None of them suffer from any urges to abuse their power over others and never make mistakes, all of them are some kind of god, right? None of them get drunk or use drugs, none of them abuse their spouse or children, none of them cheats anybody out of their due, etc, ad nauseum. Here's the escape hatch from the legal system/Matrix, which is what we're really dealing with here. The legal system/Matrix is the final arbiter of what is good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable in the world, everything is passed by the agents, actors and operators of the legal system/Matrix for their "opinion" on it, but yet they themselves violate the rules and regulations of how it operates, and does so as a normal course of business every day. Just look up the definitions of Contract and Fraud in any law dictionary, and then see if the agents, operators and actors in the legal system/Matrix violate any of them. I can assure you that they do!! So who are the worse criminals here in this discussion? The watched or the watchers?? Randy