IT LOOKS LIKE the first city to ban facial-recognition software could be one of the most tech-heavy. Yes, San Francisco - the home of tech darlings Uber, Twitter, Airbnb and, uh, Yahoo - voted on the controversial Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance (SSSO) proposal on Tuesday.
Results have yet to be made public, but if it's successful, San Francisco would see facial recognition software banned as a way for the city to collect its data.
"It is essential to have an informed public debate as early as possible about decisions related to surveillance technology," the proposed legislation reads. "While surveillance technology may threaten the privacy of us all, surveillance efforts have historically been used to intimidate and oppress certain communities and groups more than others, including those that are defined by a common race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, income level, sexual orientation, or political perspective."
It's not just facial recognition that's undergoing scrutiny, then. In fact, the SSSO goes on to define "surveillance technology" as "any software, electronic device, system utilising an electronic device, or similar device used, designed, or primarily intended to collect, retain, process, or share audio, electronic, visual, location, thermal, biometric, olfactory or similar information specifically associated with, or capable of being associated with, any individual or group."
That's a pretty broad description and means that things such as RFID scanners, body-worn cameras, number plate readers and DNA capture systems are included. Pretty awkward when the likes of 23andMe and Ancestry are residents in the city.
Most of these forms of surveillance would be admissible, but not without submission of ordinance and impact reports for review. Existing systems would be overseen by annual audits, but facial recognition gets a special kind of attention: it would be outright banned.
"The propensity for facial recognition technology to endanger civil rights and civil liberties substantially outweighs its purported benefits," the ordinance states, "and the technology will exacerbate racial injustice and threaten our ability to live free of continuous government monitoring."
If adopted, San Francisco would certainly be setting itself apart. Despite extremely weak results, British police seem insistent on introducing facial recognition to our streets, whether the public wants it or not. µ
Much a (dil)do about nothing
Neither the time nor the face
The tiny tweaks are coming thick and fast now
Gitting more secure