San Francisco deliberated this week on whether to ban municipally operated facial recognition software.
If it did so, the city would be the first in the country to put a moratorium on the highly contentious technology, which a number of other state and local governments have also recently sought to regulate.
The Stop Secret Surveillance ordinance, introduced in January, has caused a stir in the city, receiving significant support from civil liberties organizations like the ACLU, while at the same time attracting the ire of local law enforcement organizations and some industry groups.
According to Gizmodo, two local police organizations recently launched a campaign to quash the legislation, encouraging their supporters to lobby supervisors and urge them not to pass it.
The ordinance was given a hearing before the city’s Board of Supervisors earlier this week, at which time the governing body decided to delay a decision on the legislation until its next meeting on Monday.
The ordinance would institute multiple new regulations on the city’s process for acquiring surveillance equipment while also instituting a total ban on municipal use of facial recognition software. The ban would apply only to public agencies, not to private vendors.
One of the new regulations in the ordinance would require city agencies looking to purchase new surveillance equipment to submit a “Surveillance Impact Report” to the board, while agencies already using surveillance technologies would be responsible for articulating a clear policy around that usage.
Biometric data collection has consistently been a source of anxiety for critics, who express fears that such tools will encroach upon civil liberties. In particular, a consistent fear has been raised that technology using artificial intelligence to facially identify individuals will be weaponized against minority demographics, which some studies contend are more vulnerable to misidentification and biased targeting.
The proposed legislation makes note of the fear of biased targeting, while also including language that stresses a more general necessity for a regulatory framework for the city’s increasing surveillance technology.
“The propensity for facial recognition technology to endanger civil rights and civil liberties substantially outweighs its purported benefits,” the ordinance states. “Legally enforceable safeguards, including robust transparency, oversight, and accountability measures, must be in place to protect civil rights and civil liberties before any surveillance technology is deployed.”
This story first appeared in Government Technology, Techwire’s sister publication.