Banning Facial Recognition Tech; How Far Will It Go?

By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 16, 2019

This week, San Francisco became the first major city to ban facial recognition technology for surveillance. Others are sure to follow.

Sommerville, Massachusetts, and Oakland, California, are expected to adopt bans of their own. They are designed to apply to local government generally, and police agencies in particular.

Advocates say it is part of a trend to protect individual privacy and civil rights. Several California communities have enacted similar laws, but the whole state seems to be saying that some tech just goes too far.

Pushing Back Tech

California is leading the country in pushing back against facial recognition technology. Last week, the California State Assembly approved a ban on facial recognition technology by police with body cameras. The proposed ban prohibits the live use of facial recognition tech and the use of any data collected through the body cams.

The state and local measures follow sweeping data privacy reforms from lawmakers last year. California legislators passed laws that give consumers more control over how companies collect and manage their personal information. Set to go into effect next year, the legislation gives consumers the right to view data collected on them, request its deletion, and stop companies from selling it to third parties.

Silicon Valley is figuring out how to deal with it now. Without elaborating, Google representatives said it will have "unintended consequences." "User privacy needs to be thoughtfully balanced against legitimate business needs," said Google senior vice president Sridhar Ramaswamy. (Difficult to pronounce, but when you sound it out it comes out "user fees," "more ads," or "throttled services.")

San Francisco, meanwhile, is pushing forward with its technology ban. In addition to banning facial recognition tech, it will require local government agencies to obtain approval from the board of supervisors before purchasing surveillance tech. They will also have to disclose its use to the public.

Can't Stop Tech

In Washington, BigTech fought off efforts to regulate facial recognition software. Microsoft, Amazon and other companies opposed a moratorium in favor of less regulation. They won.

Meanwhile, half of all Americans are already in a facial recognition database. The FBI says its facial recognition project is at "full operational capability." In New York, police have caught more than 4,000 people by using facial recognition software and DMV photos. "The use of this facial recognition technology has allowed law enforcement to crack down on fraud, identity theft, and other offenses -- taking criminals and dangerous drivers off our streets and increasing the safety of New York's roadways," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

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