No pictures, please! San Francisco supervisors voted Tuesday to ban the use of facial recognition software by police and other city departments. That makes the City by the Bay the first in the United States to outlaw the rapidly developing technology.
Sure, “the eyes of the Lord are in every place,” (Proverbs 15:3) but many people are nervous about the eyes of the police or other authorities being everywhere too. San Francisco’s ban is part of legislation that requires city departments to obtain approval for surveillance technology—even for what they’re currently using.
“This [ban] is really about saying: ‘We can have good policing without being a police state.’ And part of that is building trust with the community based on good community information, not on Big Brother technology,” says Supervisor Aaron Peskin.
The ban applies to San Francisco police and other community departments. It does not affect use by the federal government at airports and ports or limit personal or business use.
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation chided San Francisco for considering the facial recognition ban. It says the technology makes it cheaper and faster for police to find suspects and identify missing people.
Those who support the ban say the technology is flawed and a serious threat to civil liberties. They worry people won’t be able to go to a mall, park, or school without being identified and tracked.
But critics say police need all the help they can get, especially in a city with high-profile events and high rates of property crime. Expecting privacy in public spaces is unreasonable given the abundance of cellphones and surveillance cameras, says Meredith Serra, a member of a resident public safety group. She says, “The ordinance seems to be a costly additional layer of bureaucracy that really does nothing to improve the safety of our citizens.”
(Demonstrators hold images of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos near their faces during a protest at Amazon headquarters over the company’s facial recognition system in Seattle. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)