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Biometrics industry groups blast San Francisco decision and process in facial recognition ban


The Identification Technology Association (IdTA) and the International Biometrics + Identity Association (IBIA) have each issued a statement condemning the decision of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors to ban facial recognition technology in city surveillance systems.

The IdTA called for the board to extend the comment period and dialogue on the legislation to allow “a more thorough and thoughtful discussion about the benefits of facial recognition technology.” The organization says it and its member companies are committed to the “responsible and transparent use” of the technology and other biometric modalities to improve safety and convenience.

“We believe that it would be prudent to spend the next 60 days discussing, among other things, how the technology works, ongoing efforts to improve the technology, and examples of where state, local and federal law enforcement, as well as companies in the private sector, have used this technology for good in communities across the country,” IdTA says in the written statement.

“There are many sources of objective information concerning facial recognition and biometric technologies, and we hope to have a chance to contribute to this important discussion in the days and weeks ahead.”

The IBIA more strenuously slammed the decision, saying that it should be repealed and re-examined before it takes effect, as the council’s decision “did not follow a transparent and thorough process to ensure a decision based on facts and a careful balancing of benefits with appropriate uses and safeguards to restrain the technology’s misuse.”

While commending the effort to establish public policy on surveillance, the IBIA says San Francisco’s ban “is based on a blanket hypothetical assertion of potential harm,” and catalogues seven steps the board failed to take, along with seven points the board ignored, according to the statement (PDF).

The council may not agree with the veracity or relevance of several of the IBIA’s points. The IBIA says that no “factual evidence of harm” was presented, though a false positive by a automatic license plate reader has resulted in a lawsuit against police in the state, and that fictional depictions of Chinese surveillance do not represent reality in the U.S., though such depictions do not explicitly appear in the ordinance. A lack of specific debate on these and many other points, however, seems central to the IBIA’s position.

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