San Francisco Bans Facial Recognition Technology

In one form or another, facial recognition is already being used in many American airports and big stadiums, and by a number of other police departments. The pop star Taylor Swift has reportedly incorporated the technology at one of her shows, using it to help identify stalkers .

The facial recognition fight in San Francisco is largely theoretical — the police department does not currently deploy such technology, and it is only in use at the international airport and ports that are under federal jurisdiction and are not impacted by the legislation.

Some local homeless shelters use biometric finger scans and photos to track shelter usage, said Jennifer Friedenbach, the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness. The practice has driven undocumented residents away from the shelters, she said.

Still, it has been a particularly charged topic in a city with a rich history of incubating dissent and individual liberties, but one that has also suffered lately from high rates of property crime.

The ban prohibits city agencies from using facial recognition technology, or information gleaned from external systems that use the technology. It is part of a larger legislative package devised to govern the use of surveillance technologies in the city that requires local agencies to create policies controlling their use of these tools. There are some exemptions, including one that would give prosecutors a way out if the transparency requirements might interfere with their investigations.

Still, the San Francisco Police Officers Association, an officers’ union, said the ban would hinder their members’ efforts to investigate crime.

“Although we understand that it’s not a 100 percent accurate technology yet, it’s still evolving,” said Tony Montoya, the president of the association. “I think it has been successful in at least providing leads to criminal investigators.”

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