San Francisco Becomes First City To Ban Facial Recognition

No American city has made this move before.

The city of San Francisco, home of the GAFA tech giants and still considered as the biggest start-up incubator in the world, just banned the use of facial recognition software by the police and other agencies. A decision which came in an 8-to-1 vote by the Board of Supervisors, making San Francisco the first major American city to make this move. 

It doesn’t mean facial recognition will disappear for good, but only that the police and other agencies won’t be able to use it to arrest criminals. The cameras installed in airports, big stadiums, private homes, and on smartphones will still be allowed to use this technology to identify faces.

This decision from the Board of Supervisors was majoritively approved, with the San Francisco police department saying it tested the technology on booking photos between 2013 and 2017 but no longer uses it. American civil liberties advocates are concerned about potential abuses, such as camera being used to watch everyone, as it is the case in China, instead of focusing on potentially dangerous individuals. Just like Taylor Swift whose security team used facial recognition technology during one of her concerts to identify her stalkers.

Facial recognition has also shown its limits, with many studies arguing that it is not always efficient. Last year, The Independent wrote that it was inaccurate 98% of the times the London police used it. But mostly, facial recognition is highly discriminating: we know that cameras and algorithms are not working exactly the same way for black and white people.

By Pierre Schneidermann, published on 16/05/2019