San Francisco legislation could ban facial recognition in the tech-centric city

A woman's face being scanned by facial recognition technology
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Lawmakers in San Francisco have introduced legislation that could make the city the first in the US to ban government use of facial recognition technology.

The Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance, proposed by supervisor Aaron Peskin, requires departments in the city to seek approval from the Board of Supervisors before using or buying surveillance technology, which has already been implemented by other cities.

If approved, the ordinance would create a blanket ban that stops government departments from purchasing or using facial recognition technology. This legislation, which also applies to police, is seen as a big step towards regulation of facial recognition technology.

"While surveillance technology may threaten the privacy of all of us, surveillance efforts have historically been used to intimidate and oppress certain communities and groups more than others, including those that are defined by a common race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, income level, sexual orientation, or political perspective," the Peskin's legislation states.

"The propensity for facial recognition technology to endanger civil rights and civil liberties substantially outweighs its purported benefits, and the technology will exacerbate racial injustice and threaten our ability to live free of continuous government monitoring."

The legislation will be heard in a committee hearing, next month, and it has already gained support from civil rights groups, including the ACLU of Northern California.

In the UK, facial recognition is under more stigma following disastrous trials by both the Met and South Wales police. Both organisations were found to be using the technology despite extremely high failure rates. Not only did the Met Police's deployment see zero arrests, but it also had a false identification rate of 98%.

At the end of last year, it was reported in Rolling Stone Magazine that pop star Taylor Swift had the technology scanning fans entering her gigs, to filter out dangerous stalkers. The controversy in this example is that her fans were unaware their faces where being scanned.

Bobby Hellard

Bobby Hellard is ITPro's Reviews Editor and has worked on CloudPro and ChannelPro since 2018. In his time at ITPro, Bobby has covered stories for all the major technology companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, and regularly attends industry-leading events such as AWS Re:Invent and Google Cloud Next.

Bobby mainly covers hardware reviews, but you will also recognize him as the face of many of our video reviews of laptops and smartphones.