facial recognition by city agencies, a first-of-its-kind measure that has inspired similar efforts elsewhere.
Gregory Barber covers cryptocurrency, blockchain, and artificial intelligence for WIRED.
San Francisco’s ban covers government agencies, including the city police and county sheriff’s department, but doesn’t affect the technology that unlocks your iPhone or cameras installed by businesses or individuals. It’s part of a broader package of rules, introduced in January by supervisor Aaron Peskin, that will require agencies to gain approval from the board before purchasing surveillance tech and will require that they publicly disclose its intended use. In coming weeks, Oakland and Somerville, Massachusetts, are expected to consider facial-recognition bans of their own.
Facial-recognition technology has been used by law enforcement to spot fraud and identify suspects, but critics say that recent advances in AI have transformed the technology into a dangerous tool that enables real-time surveillance. Studies by researchers at MIT and Georgetown have found that the technology is less accurate at identifying people of color and could automate biases already pervasive in law enforcement. Privacy advocates see banning facial recognition as a unique opportunity to prevent the technology from getting too entrenched. “We’re doing it now before the genie gets out of the bottle,” says Brian Hofer, an attorney who heads Oakland’s Privacy Advisory Commission, which spearheaded the legislation in that city.
In San Francisco, the police department says it doesn’t currently use facial recognition, although it tested the technology on booking photos between 2013 and 2017. The Sheriff’s department, which is included under the board’s unique city-and-county authority, says it doesn’t either. “We will comply with whatever the requirements are,” says spokeswoman Nancy Crowley, adding that officers are equipped with Axon body camera
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