SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — San Francisco supervisors on Tuesday approved a ban on police and other public agencies using facial recognition technology, making it the first city in the U.S. with such a restriction.
The ban is part of broader oversight legislation that orders San Francisco departments to spell out details of any surveillance currently in use and any surveillance they hope to use.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin spearheaded the legislation to not only ban facial recognition software, but regulate the way data from city cameras are stored and shared.
“For me personally, it’s the difference between safe and secure communities on one hand and a surveillance state in the other,” said Peskin. “It’s not ready for prime time. This is a technology that misidentified 28 members of the United States congress and has led to some very dangerous situations.”
When you’re walking down the street in San Francisco, your face may be picked up on a city owned surveillance camera, but it will not be subject to facial recognition software.
“Every city agency that has surveillance technology develop a use policy that would go to the board of supervisors for approval,” Peskin told KPIX 5.
The American Civil Liberties Union has helped create similar policies in places like Oakland and Berkeley.
The government can still subpoena companies for information.
The ban only applies to cameras run by city agencies like SFPD, but not to private, state or federal cameras like ones installed at the Port Authority or SFO.
The rules committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously last week to pass the “Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance, which would disallow city and county law enforcement agencies to use facial recognition systems.
The ACLU has been working to keep the technology out of the hands of government, especially after they tested it recently and found that 28 members of the U.S. Congress falsely matched mugshots of criminals.
Privacy advocates have squared off with public safety proponents at several heated hearings in San Francisco, a city teeming with tech innovation and the home of Twitter, Airbnb and Uber.
Those who support the ban say facial recognition technology is not only flawed, but a serious threat to civil rights. Opponents say the police need help catching criminals.
Last week, KPIX 5 security expert and former FBI agent Jeff Harp argued law enforcement needs every tool it can get.
Following the bombing of the Boston Marathon, it took teams of cops hours to comb through surveillance video to find the suspects. The new technology could have identified them much sooner. San Francisco will not have this advantage.
“We’re not going to be on the cutting edge enough to apprehend criminals in a manner that uses this technology,” Harp said.