Facial recognition technology is everywhere you look -- from unlocking phones to shaming jaywalkers. But should corporations have the power to use it on you without consent? That's the question the city of San Francisco is tackling right now. A member of the city's Board of Supervisors proposed a ban on facial recognition technology for city agencies on Tuesday, Wired reports -- potentially forcing tech companies to justify the use of surveillance tools. San Francisco city board member Aaron Peskin is calling for an approval process for any new surveillance technology purchases by city agencies such as license plate readers, CCTV, and gun-detection systems.
San Francisco could become the first U.S. city to ban the use of facial recognition technology, criticized as biased by lawmakers and privacy advocates. A new bill unveiled on Tuesday, known as the Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance, states that the risks of the controversial technology "substantially outweigh...its purported benefits, and the technology will exacerbate racial injustice and threaten our ability to live free of continuous government monitoring." "Our intent is to catch people's attention and have a broader conversation as to where the moral precipice is for technology, after which you've gone too far," Lee Hepner, a legislative aide to Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who proposed the bill, told Ars Technica. "This is a harm to our way of life, a harm to our democracy, and a harm to marginalized communities. There is a salient interest in facial recognition, too: it creeps people out."
Much more rapidly than anyone originally thought possible, facial recognition technology has become part of the cultural mainstream. Facebook, for example, now uses AI-powered facial recognition software as part of its core social networking platform to identify people, while law enforcement agencies around the world have experimented with facial recognition surveillance cameras to reduce crime and improve public safety. But now it looks like society is finally starting to wake up to the immense privacy implications of real-time facial recognition surveillance. For example, San Francisco is now considering an outright ban on facial recognition surveillance. If pending legislation known as "Stop Secret Surveillance" passes, this would make San Francisco the first city ever to ban (and not just regulate) facial recognition technology.
In recent days, more and more Facebook users started seeing a notification about how the social network uses its facial recognition technology. When Facebook first implemented the tech in 2013, it limited its use to suggesting tags in photos. In December, though, the company announced that it would expand face recognition's scope to notify you when someone added a photo you were in, whether it was tagged or not. If that sounds like something you'd rather Facebook not do, it's easy enough to stop.