On May 14, 2019, the San Francisco government became the first major city in the United States to ban the use of facial-recognition technology (paywall) by the government and law enforcement agencies. This ban comes as a part of a broader anti-surveillance ordinance. As of May 14, the ordinance was set to go into effect in about a month. Local officials and civil advocates seem to fear the repercussions of allowing facial-recognition technology to proliferate throughout San Francisco, while supporters of the software claim that the ban could limit technological progress. In this article, I'll examine the ban that just took place in San Francisco, explore the concerns surrounding facial recognition technology, and explain why an outright ban may not be the best course of action.
In December, Microsoft President Brad Smith urged lawmakers to set rules on facial-recognition technology to prevent a privacy-threatening "race to the bottom." Now the company has joined a legislative fight in its home state against rules it says would be too restrictive. Microsoft is pushing back on a bill sponsored by a bipartisan group of Washington state lawmakers that would ban local and state governments from using facial recognition until certain conditions are met, including a report by the state attorney general certifying that systems in use are equally accurate for people of differing races, skin tones, ethnicities, genders, or age. Microsoft has endorsed a different bipartisan privacy bill, modeled on European data laws. It contains less restrictive facial-recognition rules, which closely mirror Smith's proposals from December.
King's Cross Central's developers said they wanted facial-recognition software to spot people on the site who had previously committed an offence there. The detail has emerged in a letter one of its managers sent to the London mayor, on 14 August. Sadiq Khan had sought reassurance using facial recognition on the site was legal. Two days before, Argent indicated it was using it to "ensure public safety". On Monday, it said it had now scrapped work on new uses of the technology.
If you're reading this in the United States, there's a 50 percent chance that a photo of your face is in at least one database used in police facial-recognition systems. Police departments in nearly half of U.S. states can use facial-recognition software to compare surveillance images with databases of ID photos or mugshots. Some departments only use facial-recognition to confirm the identity of a suspect who's been detained; others continuously analyze footage from surveillance cameras to determine exactly who is walking by at any particular moment. Altogether, more than 117 million American adults are subject to face-scanning systems. These findings were published Tuesday in a report from Georgetown Law's Center for Privacy and Technology.