Maria Montero

San Francisco becomes America’s first city ….

San Francisco supervisors voted Tuesday to ban the use of facial recognition software by police and other city departments, becoming the first city in the United States to ban a rapidly developing technology that has alarmed advocates. of privacy and civil liberties.

The ban is part of broader legislation that requires city departments to establish usage policies and obtain board approval for surveillance technology they want to purchase or are currently using. Several other local governments require departments to disclose and seek approval for surveillance technology.

A man walks past a sign simulating facial recognition software at the 2018 China Security expo on public safety and security in Beijing.

“It’s really about saying, ‘We can have security without being a security state. We can have good surveillance without being a police state.’ And part of that is building trust with the community based on good information from the community, not on Big Brother technology, “said Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who defended the legislation.

The ban applies to the San Francisco police and other city departments. It does not affect the federal government’s use of technology at airports and ports, nor does it limit personal or commercial use.

The San Francisco board didn’t spend time Tuesday debating a total ban on facial recognition technology, instead focusing on potential burdens on law enforcement, the transit system, and other city agencies that need to maintain public safety. “I am concerned about politicizing these decisions,” said Supervisor Catherine Stefani, a former prosecutor who was the only one who did not vote.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington DC-based nonprofit think tank, issued a statement reproaching San Francisco for considering a ban on facial recognition. He said advanced technology makes it cheaper and faster for police to find suspects and identify missing people.

Critics were foolish to compare the use of surveillance in the United States to China, given that one country has strong constitutional protections and the other does not, said Daniel Castro, vice president of the foundation. “Actually, San Francisco is more at risk. to become in Cuba than in China, a ban on facial recognition will freeze it in time with outdated technology, “he said.

It’s unclear how many San Francisco departments are using surveillance and for what purposes, Peskin said. There are valid reasons for license plate readers, body cameras and security cameras, he said, but the public should know how the tools are being used or if they are being abused.

The San Francisco Police Department stopped testing personal identification technology in 2017. A representative at Tuesday’s board meeting said the department would need two to four additional employees to comply with the legislation.

Privacy advocates have met with public safety advocates at several heated hearings in San Francisco, a city brimming with tech innovation and the home of Twitter, Airbnb and Uber. Supporters of the ban say the technology is flawed and a serious threat to civil liberties, especially in a city that treasures public protest and privacy. They worry that someday people won’t be able to go to a mall, park, or school without being identified and tracked.

But critics say the police need all the help they can get, especially in a city with high-profile events and high rates of property crime. That people expect privacy in public space to be unreasonable given the proliferation of cell phones and surveillance cameras, said Meredith Serra, a member of a resident public safety group Stop Crime SF.

“To me, the ordinance appears to be an expensive additional layer of bureaucracy that really does nothing to improve the safety of our citizens,” he said at a hearing. The City of Oakland is considering similar legislation.

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