Blog #676 Facial Recognition in San Francisco

Facial Recognition (San Francisco limits facial recognition)

Recently the San Francisco City Council passed a facial recognition ban on its first hearing.  It does need a second review before it becomes a law in the city.

San Francisco became the first city in the country to ban city use of facial recognition surveillance technology Tuesday — a groundbreaking move that privacy advocates applaud, but others say may go too far.

The legislation, written by Supervisor Aaron Peskin, also will force city departments to disclose what surveillance technology they currently use — and seek approval from the Board of Supervisors on any new technology that either collects or stores someone’s data.

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

The only city counselor that voted against the action said “she was concerned about how a complete ban on facial recognition could prevent the city’s law enforcement from having access to a potentially useful crime-solving tool. She also worried that forcing departments to disclose all their surveillance technology — and requiring them to seek board approval on anything new — could bog them down with extra work”

“I am not yet convinced, and I still have many outstanding questions,” she said. But “that does not undermine what I think is a very well-intentioned piece of legislation.”

“The San Francisco Police Department estimated it would take between two and four full-time employees to comply with the new ordinance. And even though the department says it does not currently use facial recognition technology, it may no longer acquire it in the future.”


Facial Recognition is just that – it recognizes faces and connects the faces with names and database information.  Facial recognition has been used to identify people at border crossings, Olympic games, airports, even at the Superbowl.  

Faces that have been altered with more hair, tanned (or untanned) skins, massive weight gain or lose, glasses, etc can still be identified because on face ‘prints’.  

This action is to ensure privacy.  In effect facial recognition can identify every person walking down the street, entering buildings, both innocent and guilty.  The concept of ‘innocent before proven guilty’ is largely thrown out as facial recognition can identify people who have massive overdue books, or parking tickets, or even fugitives from other states and countries.  

So, with facial recognition and the use of databases that a person visiting San Farancisco who had some legal troubles from New York City would be identified and possibly sent back to NYC for legal action.  

This act is to attempt to make such blanket facial survivance inappropriate – almost an inappropriate ‘search and screen’ of individuals.  

What do you think?  Should cities protect an individual’s privacy?  Should cities allow or limit businesses to use facial recognition to identify potential shoplifters or crooks?  


Posted by Bruce White

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