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San Francisco Bans Agencies' Use of Facial Recognition

May 15 2019

San Francisco has become the first US city to ban the use of facial recognition by local agencies, including the city's transport authority and law enforcement officers.

San Francisco Bans Agencies' Use of Facial RecognitionThe high-tech city's supervisors passed the law by eight votes to one, with two absentees, and it is expected to hit the statute book after a second vote next week. Any local body wishing to buy new surveillance technology must also now seek approval from the city's administrators - but the rules will not apply to security measures at San Francisco's airport or sea port, which are run by federal agencies.

The law has received a mixed reaction, with civil liberties groups saying the technology infringes people's privacy and liberty, but opponents saying it will hinder efforts to fight crime. Current systems are said to be imperfect, with particular problems correctly identifying women and people with darker skin.

Matt Cagle from the American Civil Liberties Union in Northern California, quoted on www.bbc.co.uk, said 'With this vote, San Francisco has declared that face surveillance technology is incompatible with a healthy democracy and that residents deserve a voice in decisions about high-tech surveillance. We applaud the city for listening to the community, and leading the way forward with this crucial legislation. Other cities should take note and set up similar safeguards to protect people's safety and civil rights'. However Joel Engardio, VP of Stop Crime SF, said a moratorium would have been more appropriate than an outright ban, pending improvements: 'the technology will improve and it could be a useful tool for public safety when used responsibly. We should keep the door open for that possibility'.

San Francisco's police officers do not currently use facial recognition technology, but a number of other police forces across the US do, as do their counterparts in China.

All articles 2006-19 written and edited by Mel Crowther and/or Nick Thomas.

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