San Francisco, the city that’s been the house of the revolution from the west, has prohibited the use of facial recognition technologies by political and law enforcement agencies within its own territory. The statement was made on Tuesday following eight of the town’s 11 Board of Supervisors voted in favour of prohibiting the use of facial recognition technologies within town limits.
The ban is part of the town’s anti-surveillance ordinance which was passed from the San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors on May 14. For this, San Francisco became the first significant city in the USA that has completely prohibited the usage of a technology which is used by numerous political departments for tracking offenders and for surveillance generally.
“We have an outsize responsibility to regulate the excesses of technology precisely because they are headquartered here,” Aaron Peskin, a town manager who endorsed the bill said in a statement to The New York Times.
After the ban, which will come into effect next month – 30 days following the San Francisco mayor signs the ordinance – will effectively prohibit 53 governmental divisions from town from utilizing the face recognition technologies. The listing also contains the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) which temporarily utilized this tech from 2013 to 2017.
On the other hand, the ban includes specific exceptions. Though the ordinance has limited the SFPD from utilizing the facial recognition technologies for surveillance, it allows the usage of the technology once the footage is expected in a criminal investigation. This usually means that the local police department may utilize movie footage captured from a camera when it assists an investigation.
Along with this, in addition, it makes it possible for the facial recognition technology to be utilized in the regions controlled by the federal authorities – like the Port of San Francisco and the San Francisco International Airport. Additionally, the ban does not cover the companies and residents, meaning that residents and local companies can utilize video camera and by extension the face recognition technology for protecting their houses and stores.
Similar limitations on using face recognition technologies are into consideration in Oakland, Somerville, Massachusetts and at Capitol Hill.
The ordinance has received mixed responses. Though some think that the ban could put a leash around the unprecedented energy afforded from the authorities because of this particular technology, others feel that banning things is early as this technology is still in its growing phase and it might be utilized for procuring communities in future.
“…as it improves, this could be the answer to a lot of problems we have about securing our communities,” former Boston police commissioner Ed Davis told The Times.
Face recognition technology along with its corresponding usage for a mass surveillance application was a cause of concern for privacy proponents for quite a while. Flawed artificial intelligence (AI) based applications – such as Amazon Rekognition — have raised concerns one of the civil rights advocates that they might reevaluate racial discrimination.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a request addressed to the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos back in March this year asked the company to stop supplying Rekognition to law enforcement agencies on the grounds that it might have”negative unintended consequences for people of color, including immigrants, and protesters”.
In April, AI researchers in Google, MIT, Microsoft, IIT Kharagpur, Facebook and others asked Amazon to stop selling its’faulty’ facing recognition applications, which is presently being used in Florida and Oregon, to governmental agencies stating that the organization’s system had racial and gender biases, that had been a cause of concern. Amazon, however, defended its stand-alone stating that it had received no reports of the authorities abusing its own software.