San Francisco first US state to outlaw urban facial recognition

San Francisco outlaws facial recognition in a US first

San Francisco has become the first jurisdiction in the US to ban facial recognition surveillance technology, preventing its own transport and police departments from utilising the tool.

The hardline stance was approved by city legislators who also took the opportunity to place wider restrictions on the purchase of any new forms of surveillance technology – which must now be approved in advance.

A counter-reaction against the adoption of the technology arose amid fears that current techniques were both unreliable and unacceptable infringement on individual liberty and privacy, outweighing concerns that the move could undermine the fight against crime – even though San Francisco police do not currently employ facial recognition tools.

Emboldened by this success civil liberties campaigners have called for other cities to follow suit but others believe the issue is not as black and white as portrayed.

Joel Engardio, vice-president of Stop Crime SF, said: “Instead of an outright ban, we believe a moratorium would have been more appropriate.

"We agree there are problems with facial recognition ID technology and it should not be used today. But the technology will improve and it could be a useful tool for public safety when used responsibly. We should keep the door open for that possibility."

Despite its best efforts, San Francisco will still be home to a minimal form of automated recognition although this will be restricted to air and sea ports which fall under the remit of the national government.

San Francisco's move follows a call by Microsoft for governments to do more to regulate the technology.

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