City Of San Francisco Bans Use Of Facial Recognition Tech By Government Agencies
from the FaceBlock dept
San Francisco is getting out ahead of the tech curve. Instead of waiting until after law enforcement had already deployed a suite of surveillance tools, city legislators have passed a ban on facial recognition tech by government agencies.
San Francisco, long at the heart of the technology revolution, took a stand against potential abuse on Tuesday by banning the use of facial recognition software by the police and other agencies.
The action, which came in an 8-to-1 vote by the Board of Supervisors, makes San Francisco the first major American city to block a tool that many police forces are turning to in the search for both small-time criminal suspects and perpetrators of mass carnage.
This move is being applauded by privacy and rights activists. Obviously, it has it critics as well. But the argument made here is pretty much a non-starter.
“It is ridiculous to deny the value of this technology in securing airports and border installations,” said Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law expert at George Washington University. “It is hard to deny that there is a public safety value to this technology.”
The ban doesn’t affect federal agencies so the borders and airports will be just as protected as they ever were by software known mostly for its false positive rates. And in San Francisco, the use of facial recognition tech by law enforcement is — and apparently will remain — theoretical. To date, no local law enforcement agency has deployed facial recognition tech in San Francisco.
But the ban [PDF] also prevents local cops from pulling info from outside databases compiled using facial recognition tech, which means there won’t be any backdoor searches for faces. This whole package of preemptives isn’t popular with local cops… or at least not with their union representation.
[T]he San Francisco Police Officers Association, an officers’ union, said the ban would hinder their members’ efforts to investigate crime.
“Although we understand that it’s not a 100 percent accurate technology yet, it’s still evolving,” said Tony Montoya, the president of the association. “I think it has been successful in at least providing leads to criminal investigators.”
Upon information but mostly belief, the SFPOA touts the success of a tool it’s never used and backs it with facts not in evidence. Undeniably, facial recognition software has been used to capture criminals. But there’s little suggesting it’s a regular occurrence, much less one that offsets citizens’ long-held beliefs that their commutes in public should not become the tech equivalent of being tailed by police officers at all times.
Bells are easier to ring than un-ring. The city’s decision to ring the ban bell before the deployment of facial recognition tech by local agencies shoves the burden on law enforcement to show it can be trusted with the surveillance tech it already has before it starts asking for this ban to be rolled back. Government agencies know better than most how much of an uphill battle repeals are. The SFPD lost before it even knew it was playing.