Portland Passes Ban On Facial Recognition Use By City Agencies And Private Businesses

from the FOR-HOME-SECURITY-USE-ONLY dept

Portland, Oregon has now joined parts of Massachusetts and all of California in protecting its residents from the sketchy surveillance method known as “facial recognition.” For something that’s supposed to recognize faces, it’s usually pretty bad at it and gets worse when it has to deal with minorities. Of course, the same can be said about the law enforcement agencies deploying it, which might explain their love of tech that gives them more people to arrest but rarely the probable cause to do so.

Portland’s ban is more restrictive than others already in place. It doesn’t just affect the local government.

In addition to halting city use of the surveillance technology, the new rule prevents “private entities in places of public accommodation” in Portland from using it, too, referring to businesses that serve the general public — a grocery store or a pizza place, for instance. It does not prevent individuals from setting up facial-recognition technology at home, such as a Google Nest camera that can spot familiar faces, or gadgets that use facial-recognition software for authenticating users, like Apple’s Face ID feature for unlocking an iPhone.

This means no one gets to use it but private citizens surveilling their own doorways. Sure, that’s going to capture people moving up and down the street, but unlike law enforcement agencies, private citizens can’t deprive someone of their freedom just because the tech thought it recognized someone.

The hit to businesses doesn’t take effect until 2021. The rest of it starts immediately. Portland is still in the throes of civil unrest — something that started in late May and shows no sign of letting up, no matter how many federal officers the Administration throws at the “problem.” There’s the obvious concern facial recognition is being used to identify people engaged in First Amendment activity for reasons unknown to anyone but those deploying the tech. The local cops will be blocked from doing this going forward (if they were ever doing it at all) but it will have no effect on facial recognition deployment by federal officers.

It seems inevitable some business owners will challenge the law. This tech allows internal security to keep an eye out for banned individuals and suspected shoplifters. But private tools don’t appear to be any better at identifying people than the tech being sold to government agencies. Allowing private companies to use the tech puts law enforcement only a phone call away. And it can lead to the same results (false positives, bogus arrests) despite being owned and operated by non-government entities. It’s a bold move by the city of Portland. But it’s probably also a necessary one if you’re serious about protecting residents from unproven tech that has the latent ability to destroy lives.

More bans are sure to come, especially now that everything law enforcement-related is under the microscope. Portland has set the ban bar pretty high. Other cities that believe they’re serious about keeping their residents safe from surveillance creep now have something to shoot for.

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Comments on “Portland Passes Ban On Facial Recognition Use By City Agencies And Private Businesses”

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16 Comments
zyffyr (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I live in Portland. The Pearl district specifically. Grew up in the Mount Tabor and Laurelhurst neighborhoods. Any Portlander who says "What unrest?" is paying exactly zero attention to actual events (or they are a a liar or a moron).

The allegedly peaceful protests are only peaceful for the first hour or so. Then the peaceful types and most of the press head home and those who remain begin the violence. It doesn’t really count as "police brutality in the face of peaceful protests" when the ‘protesters’ are throwing rocks and molotov cocktails.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"The allegedly peaceful protests are only peaceful for the first hour or so. Then the peaceful types and most of the press head home and those who remain begin the violence"

Lol, so you’re saying that the actual protesters are peaceful, but you hate them because other people cause problems after they leave?

zyffyr (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I am completely fine with the peaceful portion. I have a problem with the violent scum who stick around after and the morons who ignore them in claiming that the violence is the polices fault. Not that the police response has been anywhere close to perfect, but the ones who start it pretty much every night deserve most of the blame.

BTW, if you actually read my statement the way you are claiming I meant it, your reading comprehension needs some serious work.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"I have a problem with the violent scum who stick around after and the morons who ignore them in claiming that the violence is the polices fault."

OK, that’s understandable. But, you do realise that there have been numerous incidents caught on camera where the police have responded to the actual peaceful parts of the protests with violence?

I understand your need to pretend that these are 2 totally separate groups that never mix up, but there is evidence that people who were not being violent have been responded to with violence, which means that the people you’re saying are not being truthful are in fact being more truthful than you are…

I know you feel the need to defend your home town, but claiming that videos that have been seen across the world didn’t happen and that the cops are to be trusted absolutely is not the correct tactic to take here…

"BTW, if you actually read my statement the way you are claiming I meant it, your reading comprehension needs some serious work."

Or, given that several people have commented in the same way, your writing ability needs some wrok?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Just a reminder

but claiming that videos that have been seen across the world didn’t happen and that the cops are to be trusted absolutely is not the correct tactic to take here…

By your own logic, though, the cops should not be condemned absolutely either. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut occasionally; even the most violent cop occasionally makes the correct call.

I will remind you that we do not live in a panopticon. Every video is an anecdote. And only the grievous ones go viral.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Just a reminder

"By your own logic, though, the cops should not be condemned absolutely either. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut occasionally; even the most violent cop occasionally makes the correct call."

Erm, the protests are directly about unnecessary police brutality. How will turning a blind eye to new examples of it help, exactly?

Also, you know who also makes the correct call occasionally? Cops who don’t immediately resort to violence.

"Every video is an anecdote. And only the grievous ones go viral."

That goes on both sides.

Anonymous Coward says:

One of the problems with FR is that it is so bad at its stated purpose, but i think it a mistake to consistently focus on this angle when criticizing its use. I certainly do not want even a really, really good FR system out there, and improvements to FR are going to be a counterpoint for those who really, really want to deploy it.

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