Oakland moves closer to banning local agency use of facial recognition

Oakland City Council has unanimously approved an ordinance to ban local police from using biometric facial recognition in the first of two votes which could lead to Oakland becoming the third city to ban the use of the technology by city employees, according to the local San Francisco CBS affiliate.

If the council votes the same way in a second reading on September 17, Oakland will follow San Francisco and Somerville, Massachusetts in banning municipal facial recognition software use. The ordinance would also ban Oakland police from using facial recognition systems owned and operated by other law enforcement agencies.

A report by the Oakland Police Department notes that San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office operates a facial recognition system, and that other agencies sometimes access the technology and its mugshot database through the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center. Oakland police suggested that real-time facial recognition could be banned, but it should be allowed to continue to allow the use of systems like the one operated by San Mateo police.

City Council President Rebecca Kaplan submitted a report arguing public facial recognition has technical limitations, a lack of implementation standards, and potential for persecuting minorities that make it inappropriate for police use. The report cites research indicating less accurate matching of women and people with dark skin, including a controversial study by Joy Buolamwini of MIT showing Amazon’s Rekognition incorrectly matching 28 members of the Congressional Black Caucus with mugshots.

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