Local government agencies in San Francisco are prohibited from using facial recognition technology as a surveillance tool in criminal investigations for fear it might be inaccurate, the city’s Board of Supervisors decided in a 8-1 vote on Tuesday, according to The New York Times.
The initiative likely passed as a precautionary measure because neither local police nor the sheriff’s office use facial recognition technology in suspect pursuit currently, even though some tests were performed in the past years to check its efficiency. The ban does not affect federal agencies such as airport security, or businesses and individuals, who will still be able to use facial recognition on devices such as iPhones.
The ban was introduced in January by supervisor Aaron Peskin, together with other proposals, such as the requirement for city administrators to approve any future acquisition of surveillance technology and publicly disclose the reasons behind its implementation.
“I think part of San Francisco being the real and perceived headquarters for all things tech also comes with a responsibility for its local legislators,” Peskin said. “We have an outsize responsibility to regulate the excesses of technology precisely because they are headquartered here.”
A second, obligatory, vote will follow next week so it can be passed into law.
San Francisco is the first US city to introduce a ban on facial recognition, but other cities in the country such as Oakland and Somerville, Massachusetts, are likely to follow and change local legislation.
While supporters of the measure argue facial recognition in its current format is unreliable and errors could jeopardize civil liberties, opponents believe it is crucial in fighting crime.
“With this vote, San Francisco has declared that face surveillance technology is incompatible with a healthy democracy and that residents deserve a voice in decisions about high-tech surveillance,” said Matt Cagle from the American Civil Liberties Union in Northern California.
“We applaud the city for listening to the community, and leading the way forward with this crucial legislation. Other cities should take note and set up similar safeguards to protect people’s safety and civil rights.”