Bay Area Lawmakers Seek Bans on Facial Recognition Tech

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City lawmakers in San Francisco and Oakland are considering barring their police from using facial recognition technology, which would mark a first in the nation, the San Jose Mercury News reports. The proposed San Francisco ordinance would also require public input and the Board of Supervisors’ approval before city agencies buy surveillance technology with public funds. That includes the purchase of license plate readers, toll readers, closed-circuit cameras, body cams, and biometrics technology and software for forecasting criminal activity.

Privacy advocates say that police in the Bay Area are not yet using facial recognition technology. But the ACLU, which helped draft the ordinances, pointed out that deploying facial recognition would be easy enough. “The raw materials for face surveillance — data such as mugshots and video feeds from CCTV and body cams — already exist,” said Matt Cagle, technology and civil liberties attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “With just a few lines of code, existing photo systems can be turned into dangerous dragnet surveillance networks.” The proposed ordinances come after high-profile examples of the pitfalls of facial recognition, including a report last year that Amazon’s Rekognition software falsely matched the faces of members of Congress with mugshots of people who had been arrested. San Francisco Police Department suggested amendments to that city’s proposal and welcomes what a spokesman called a “judiciously balanced” approach to policing and privacy.

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