San Francisco supervisors vote to ban facial recognition software

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 8-1 today to approve the Stop Secretive Surveillance ordinance, which outlaws the use of facial recognition software or retention of information obtained through facial recognition software systems. A second reading and vote will take place at a May 21 meeting to officially approve or reject the ordinance, according to the city clerk’s office.

Supervisor Catherine Stefani, the sole vote against the ordinance, said amendments fail to address her questions or concerns related to public safety. Once passed, San Francisco will become the first city in the United States to outlaw the use of facial recognition software by city departments, including the San Francisco Police Department.

“The propensity for facial recognition technology to endanger civil rights and civil liberties substantially outweighs its purported benefits, and the technology will exacerbate racial injustice and threaten our ability to live free of continuous government monitoring,” the ordinance reads.

Ordinance author Supervisor Aaron Peskin called facial recognition a “uniquely dangerous technology” and cited facial recognition software being used to track the Uighur population in western China and an ACLU test of Amazon’s Rekognition that misidentified 28 members of Congress as criminals.

Peskin called the ordinance an attempt to balance security with guarding against a surveillance state.

“This is really about saying [that] we can have security without being a security state. We can have good policing without being a police state,” he said.