First major US city outlaws police use of facial recognition technology

(FILE PHOTO by Getty)

San Francisco’s decision to ban local law enforcement from using facial recognition technology to more quickly identify and apprehend suspects has sparked a debate over what’s more important — avoiding potential civil liberty abuses or protecting local communities from criminals.

Supporters of the ban, including Aaron Peskin of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which voted 8-to-1 Tuesday to move forward with it, worry about the potential civil liberty abuses that could arise were facial recognition technology to become mainstream among law enforcement.

“This is really about saying: ‘We can have security without being a security state. We can have good policing without being a police state,'” he said to the Associated Press. “And part of that is building trust with the community based on good community information, not on Big Brother technology.”

Peskin is a Democrat, which is ironic given that Democrats have shown callous indifference toward the authoritarian censorship of conservative voices by tech giants such as Facebook.

Listen to more of his defense below:

“It’s psychologically unhealthy when people know they’re being watched in every aspect of the public realm,” he continued. “This is a technology that misidentified 28 members of he United States Congress but really can be terribly misused by governments.”

“So this legislation says we’re going to have use policies over existing and future technologies, but we want to put the facial recognition technology — we want to put that genie back in the bottle.”

The technology does indeed sometimes malfunction.

Some might argue nevertheless that this fear-mongering, which in some ways mirrors the fear-mongering surrounding the climate change debate, is more indicative of the authoritarianism and statism that Democrats seemingly fear than is the facial recognition technology they seek to ban.

“To me, the ordinance seems to be a costly additional layer of bureaucracy that really does nothing to improve the safety of our citizens,” Meredith Serra, a member of a local resident public safety group, reportedly said recently at a hearing.

The ban could also push San Francisco back into the Middle Ages, technology-wise.

“In reality, San Francisco is more at risk of becoming Cuba than China — a ban on facial recognition will make it frozen in time with outdated technology,” vice president Daniel Castro of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a science/tech think tank, said in a statement.

As Peskin noted to the AP, the ban opens a doorway to potentially banning other “existing and future technologies,” which raises the question of what’s next to be banned? Self-serve kiosks because they spur layoffs? Biometric fingerprint scanners because of abuse concerns again?

Critics also question the damage the ban could cause to law enforcement. Speaking with Fox News, Jeff Talbot of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon pointed out that facial recognition technology has helped his team catch several suspects, including a convicted thief.

“We want to be on the forefront of fighting crime and keeping our community safe,” he said. “We recognize that criminals will keep committing crimes and they will always be trying to find ways to stay ahead of the law enforcement investigations. And this is just another tool.”

Fox’s full report may be seen below via FNC’s “Shepard Smith Reporting“:

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the lone dissenter on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors was Catherine Stefani. She voted against the ban out of concern that local law enforcement officials would be deprived of a useful crime-solving tool.

“She also worried that forcing departments to disclose all their surveillance technology — and requiring them to seek board approval on anything new — could bog them down with extra work.”

Joel Engardio, the vice president of the local advocacy group Stop Crime SF, acknowledged the arguments in favor of the ban but maintained that the city should have pursued a moratorium instead.

“We agree there are problems with facial recognition ID technology and it should not be used today,” he said. “But the technology will improve and it could be a useful tool for public safety when used responsibly and with greater accuracy. We should keep the door open for that possibility.”


Castro agrees with the sentiment.

“They’re saying, let’s basically ban the technology across the board, and that’s what seems extreme, because there are many uses of the technology that are perfectly appropriate,” he said to NPR.

“We want to use the technology to find missing elderly adults. We want to use it to fight sex trafficking. We want to use it to quickly identify a suspect in case of a terrorist attack. These are very reasonable uses of the technology, and so to ban it wholesale is a very extreme reaction to a technology that many people are just now beginning to understand.”

Despite these criticisms, supporters of the ban remain convinced that empowering big government with big tech goodies just isn’t the right way to move forward. They’re not alone.

Over in Massachusetts, state Senate Majority Leader Cynthia Creem has argued that facial recognition technology poses a risk to minorities: “There is concern the system is flawed relative to racial bias, particularly with women of color,” she said to NPR.

“Big Sister is watching us. and yet we don’t even know how those pictures are being used. … The system that they’re using now raises issues of due process and significant issues with regards to civil liberties.”

The debate continues to rage on social media.

Some support the ban:

Others oppose it:

To be clear, the ban will not apply to any federal authorities working in and around the Bay Area, including the security officials at the San Francisco International Airport.



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