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San Francisco to consider banning facial recognition and restricting biometric surveillance


Legislation has been proposed to ban the purchase or use of facial recognition technology in San Francisco by local law enforcement and municipal government departments, The Verge reports.

San Francisco supervisor Aaron Peskin filed the proposed Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance (PDF), which would see the city follow some other local jurisdictions in requiring approval from the Board of Supervisors before any city department uses or acquires surveillance technology. It would also create annual audits to ensure appropriate use of any surveillance technology that is used.

“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,” according to the proposal.

Other biometric modalities are included in the definition of surveillance technologies, including voice, iris, and gait recognition.

The Verge reports that civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California have expressed support for the legislation, which will be heard in committee in February.

Responsible use of biometrics, in particular facial recognition, and in particular by law enforcement and other government agencies, has become a point of international contention, as discussed recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

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