San Francisco is on track to become the first U.S. city to ban the use of facial recognition by police and other city agencies, the Associated Press reports. The expected action reflects a growing backlash against a technology creeping into airports, motor vehicle departments, stores, stadiums and home security cameras. Government agencies have used the technology for more than a decade to scan databases for suspects and prevent identity fraud. Artificial intelligence advances have created more sophisticated computer vision tools, making it easier for police to pinpoint a missing child or protester in a moving crowd or for retailers to analyze a shopper’s facial expressions.
Efforts to restrict its use are getting pushback from law enforcement groups and the tech industry. Microsoft, while opposed to an outright ban, urges lawmakers to set limits on the technology, warning that leaving it unchecked could enable an oppressive dystopia reminiscent of George Orwell’s “1984.” Without regulations barring law enforcement from accessing driver’s license databases, people who have never been arrested could be part of virtual police line-ups without their knowledge. Critics worry people will not be able to go to a park, store or school without being identified and tracked. If San Francisco adopts a ban, other cities, states or even Congress could follow, with lawmakers looking to curtail government surveillance, hoping to restrict how businesses analyze the faces, emotions and gaits of an unsuspecting public. The city’s proposed face-recognition ban is part of broader legislation aimed at regulating the use of surveillance by city departments.