San Francisco has moved closer to becoming the first city to ban local law enforcement from acquiring facial recognition surveillance tools without a local vote.
San Francisco - On Monday, the San Francisco Rules Committee unanimously voted to pass a local bill that requires the public be notified, the establishment of clear policies, and a vote by the Board of Supervisors before any city department can purchase surveillance technology, including facial recognition tools. The "Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance" would make it illegal for any department to “obtain, retain, access or use” any face-recognition technology or information obtained from such technology. The ordinance also covers license plate readers, toll readers, closed-circuit cameras, body cams, and biometrics technology and software for forecasting criminal activity.
The ordinance states that the potential for the 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 will now face a vote from the full Board of Supervisors on May 14th. The ordinance has support from a diverse coalition of 25 local and national privacy, racial justice, and civil rights groups, including SF Latino Democratic Club, Tenth Amendment Center, Council on American-Islamic Relations SF-Bay Area, Color of Change, Data for Black Lives, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.
“The ACLU applauds the Rules Committee for passing this ordinance and urges the full Board of Supervisors to do the same," Matt Cagle, Technology and Civil Liberties Attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, said in a statement. "Democratic oversight of surveillance technology promotes public safety and protects our civil rights. With this law, San Francisco can demonstrate real tech leadership by giving our communities a seat at the table, and the power to create safeguards to prevent misuse.”
The ACLU also noted that recent polling data shows more than three quarters of people likely to vote in the Bay Area and in California in 2020 elections support laws that require public debate and a vote by lawmakers before law enforcement purchase surveillance equipment.
Although San Francisco's ordinance would be the first to outright ban the use of facial recognition, Oakland and Berkeley have passed similar ordinances restricting the purchase of surveillance technology. Later this month Oakland’s Public Safety Committee will also consider a proposal to add a ban on facial recognition to city laws.
While local efforts to combat facial recognition and surveillance should be applauded it should also be noted that civilians seeking to protect their face print and their private data will also have to combat with a growing number of federal facial recognition programs.
In 2017, Activist Post reported that nearly half of all adult Americans’ photographs are already being stored in the FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) database. That means over 121 million American adults re already cataloged in the FBI's secretive database. The NGI system is made up of fingerprints, iris scans, faceprints, and other facial recognition data. The NGI organizes Americans’ biometric data into a single file that includes personal and biographic data like name, home address, ID number, immigration status, age, race, etc.
The revelation was revealed when the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform questioned Kimberly Del Greco, Deputy Assistant Director at the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, about why the bureau broke the law by failing to file a privacy impact statement acknowledging the collection of millions of Americans’ faces for the agency’s new biometric identification system. The Committee also revealed that 18 states have a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the FBI to share photos with the federal government, including from state departments of motor vehicles (DMV).
Additionally, in early 2018 it was reported that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced plans for a new pilot program to test out biometric facial recognition technology as part of an effort to identify fugitives or terror suspects along the southern border of the United States. The Department of Energy hired researchers at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory to help overcome the difficulties of using facial recognition technology on moving vehicles. The researchers developed a method for combating window tinting and sun glare which can make a vehicle’s windows impenetrable to cameras. The facial recognition technology being developed for the pilot program will be capable of identifying the driver, front passengers, and the passengers riding in the back.
The CBP currently operates facial recognition exit programs at almost a dozen international airports in the United States. Colleen Manaher, the CBP’s executive director of planning, program analysis and evaluation, stated that travelers have been accepting of the technology and noted that “we can thank the Apples and the Googles for that.”