Portland, Ore. passes a law banning facial-recognition technology

The facial profile of a woman being analysed by facial recognition technology
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The city of Portland, Oregon, announced on Wednesday that it’s banned city departments and public-facing businesses, like stores, restaurants and hotels, from using facial-recognition technology by.

The law includes two ordinances. The first, which is already in effect, prohibits public use of facial-recognition technology and requires city bureaus to assess their use of facial-recognition technology within 90 days. The second ordinance outlaws private use of facial-recognition technology and takes effect on Jan. 1, 2021.

This new law also allows people to sue for unlawful facial recognition use, including noncompliant private entities. They can sue the private entities for $1,000 in damages per day the entity violated the law.

“Portlanders should never be in fear of having their right of privacy be exploited by either their government or by a private institution,” said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler during a hearing on Wednesday.

“All Portlanders and frankly all people are entitled to a city government that will not use technology with a demonstrated racial and gender bias which endangers personal privacy,” Wheeler continued.

Portland City Council Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty added, “I believe what we’re passing is model legislation that the rest of the country will be emulating as soon as we have completed our work here. This is really about making sure that we are prioritizing our most vulnerable community members and community members of color.”

Not everyone is happy about Portland’s ban on facial-recognition technology. Several national and local businesses and tech companies opposed all or parts of the ban. Amazon, one of the companies opposing the ban, spent $24,000 lobbying against it.

The Oregon Bankers Association also requested an exemption for banks, citing security concerns, but was ultimately denied the exemption.

Portland joins San Francisco and Oakland, California, and Boston in prohibiting government and law enforcement agencies from using biometric surveillance technology. Though city staff members say no Portland agencies currently use facial recognition or biometric technologies, each city bureau will undergo a tech assessment as part of the new law.