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San Francisco becomes first US city to ban facial recognition surveillance technology

Alyssa Clementi

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors has just passed the Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance, which will ban city use of facial recognition surveillance technology by government entities. The ordinance, which was introduced by supervisor Aaron Peskin, passed 8-1, but will need to be voted on one more time before it can be sent to the mayor’s desk for a signature.

The ordinance will not only ban facial recognition surveillance technology but will also require city departments to disclose any surveillance technology they currently use. Additionally, the Board of Supervisors will have to approve any future uses of technology that collects and stores data of anyone in the area.

“This is really about saying we can have security without being a security state. We can have good policing without being a police state,” said Peskin. “Part of that is building trust with the community.”

Although the technology is extremely common and useful throughout the country, it is extremely expensive and is not 100 per cent accurate in identifying someone, even showing bias when it comes to minorities. Discussion has even begun as to if facial recognition technology is a breach of privacy or civil liberties.

The opposition to the ban, including supervisor Catherine Stefani, argue that the technology is an asset for law enforcement offices, and could hinder their success in solving crimes. Stefani also pointed out that forcing departments to disclose their current surveillance technology will just add unnecessary and time-consuming work.

Other cities in the US have expressed interest in moving forward with a similar ban, including Oakland, California and Somerville, Massachusetts.