In a scoop for a city in the United States, San Francisco has voted to ban its government agencies using facial recognition technology.
The City Board of Supervisors voted eight to one to approve the proposal, which will take effect in a month, which would prevent city agencies, including the police, from using the tool. The ordinance would also require city agencies to obtain approval from the board of directors for the use of surveillance technology, and to establish surveillance technology audits that are already in use. Other cities have approved similar transparency measures.
The plan, called the Secret Surveillance Detention Order, was headed by Supervisor Aaron Peskin. In a statement read before the vote, Peskin said it was "an ordinance on the responsibility of surveillance technology."
"This is not a policy against technology," he said, stressing that many of the tools used by the police are still important for the safety of the city. However, he added, facial recognition is "especially dangerous and oppressive."
The ban comes in the midst of a broader debate about facial recognition, which can be used to quickly identify people and has generated new questions about civil liberties. Experts have expressed specific concerns about the tools, as studies have shown cases of disturbing biases and error rates.
Microsoft, which offers facial recognition tools, has asked for some form of technology regulation, but has questioned how, exactly, to regulate the tool. The proposals range from the regulation of light to the total moratorium. However, the legislation has stagnated to a large extent.
The San Francisco decision will inevitably be used as an example as the debate continues and other cities and states decide whether and how facial recognition is regulated. Civil liberties groups such as the ACLU of Northern California have already supported the San Francisco plan, while law enforcement in the area has delayed