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New York, San Francisco warming to biometric surveillance?

New York, San Francisco warming to biometric surveillance?

Have progressive U.S. cities gone too far in corralling police use of facial recognition? Has a rise in some crimes swamped pro-privacy sentiment?

That is a debate for the future, but pro-biometric surveillance voices in two key U.S. cities are louder and more influential today than at any point in the last few years.

The mayors of liberal bastions New York and San Francisco have gone before news cameras to say law enforcement needs AI tools to protect people and property.

Newly minted New York Mayor Eric Adams used the murder of one cop and the critical wounding of a second as a backdrop for his plan to get tough on gun crime (which is well off records set 30 years ago).

According to local tabloid the New York Post, Adams has been showing a color photo of a handgun with an illegal high-capacity magazine used in the shootings to get his point across: Cops need help, including biometric surveillance to recognize violent criminals and those carrying illegal firearms.

Back when he was president of Brooklyn, one of New York’s five boroughs, Adams oversaw payments to retailers who shared with police access to video feeds from exterior cameras. He wants to implement some form of that program city-wide, according to another New York publisher, the Gothamist.

The conservative Post covered the news with relish, while the more-liberal Gothamist raised concerns about “elements of the proposal” that would unfairly or wrongly target Black and Brown residents.

At the other end of the country, San Francisco’s mayor, London Breed recently filed for a ballot measure asking voters to give police more leeway when it comes to biometric surveillance, Government Technology reported.

A 2019 city ordinance requires police to get the approval of the Board of Supervisors before using the technology unless the potential for serious injury was high.

(City agencies quickly found a loophole in the law, which allows continued use for those that had or were using biometric surveillance prior to when the law went live. This is being considered in court, according to the Courthouse News Service.)

Mayor Breed wants to open up restrictions on police use of private video feeds. Looting, rioting and organized retail theft, for example, have the potential to result in serious injury, she has said in interviews, and so should be covered by the 2019 ordinance.

Opponents of the plan had previously accused the police department of breaking that law during protests of the 2020 police murder of George Floyd.

The city’s police chief is applauding the idea. Speaking to Government Technology, Bill Scott said his officers are needless restrained because they cannot use biometric surveillance.

Much of the recent news on the government use of facial recognition in the United States has documented political leaders backing away or even banning deployments.

There are sporadic regulatory efforts on the federal level. Most campaigns to ban use are at the state and cities. And the European Union already is a veteran of related battles.

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