Facial-recognition technologies have been under fire thanks to concerns regarding privacy, bias, and incompetence since tech companies began rolling them over the past decade. One of the biggest public concerns has to do with the danger the technology puts private citizens in if used by police departments, who could use biased and inadequate facial recognition to incorrectly identify people and arrest or harm them.
The city of San Francisco is a close neighbor to tech-hub Silicon Valley and known as one of the most tech-friendly cities in country. The city, however, set a hard boundary in its friendship with tech earlier this month, effectively banning the use of the technology in any of the city’s 53 departments, including the San Francisco Police Department, who tested a facial-recognition program from 2013-2017.
The ordinance does make an exception to the rule for federally controlled agencies like the airport and Port of San Francisco and doesn’t limit private businesses or citizens from using the technology. And while the police cannot use facial recognition in their own day-to-day operations, footage and facial recognition caught on a private citizen’s camera could legally be used in a criminal investigation.
The bill passed pretty easily through the city’s Board of Supervisors, with eight of the eleven voting in favor, one against, and two absent.
“We all support good policing but none of us want to live in a police state,” San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who introduced the bill earlier this year, told CNN Business ahead of the vote. “I think San Francisco has a responsibility to speak up on things that are affecting the entire globe, that are happening in our front yard.”
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,” technology and civil liberties attorney at the ACLU of Northern California Matt Cagle said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “We applaud the city for listening to the community, and leading the way forward with this crucial legislation.”