On Tuesday, May 14, the elected representatives of San Francisco decided by a vast majority to ban their police from using facial recognition software to find perpetrators of crimes. San Francisco became the first city in the United States to ban this highly controversial surveillance software. The elected representatives of this world capital of new technologies believe that facial recognition, when used to fight crime, is a threat to democracy and privacy.
It is a symbolic and preventive ban, as the San Francisco police had not yet used facial recognition in their investigations. However, elsewhere in the United States, more and more policies are already using this technology.
It was an Oregon police force that began using facial recognition software developed by Amazon to track down perpetrators of minor crimes. It works in the same way as unlocking a smartphone, except that in this case, the software allows police officers to find the identity of a suspect by comparing video surveillance images with their database.
A controversial debate
Over the past year, the secure use of these software has become widespread in the United States. It is used in many airports, also in concerts and, according to the American press, experiments are already underway to track down illegal immigrants.
This summer, this technology made it possible to identify the perpetrator of a massacre against a newspaper in Michigan. But it remains imperfect and has many failures, according to Aaron Peskin. It was this elected official from San Francisco who initiated its ban by the city council. Aaron Peskin sees, behind this judicial use of facial recognition, a threat to individual freedoms: “It is psychologically unhealthy when people know that they are observed everywhere in public space, on the street, in parks. I don’t want to live in this kind of city. The government can also misuse this technology.
So we want to send the genius of facial recognition back into his lamp. There are many ways to secure our society, but we do not want to live in a police state. And this legislation tries to find the right balance.
Individual freedom activists satisfied.
San Francisco became the first American city to prohibit its police from using facial recognition. And as the world capital of new technologies, the Californian megalopolis wants to send a strong message to the rest of the country.
“We have a huge responsibility to regulate the excesses of technology, precisely because their headquarters are all here,” says the local politician.
Under his leadership, the ban on the use of facial recognition by the police was passed by a majority of 8 votes to 1 at San Francisco City Council.
This decision should be followed by other cities such as Oakland and Berkeley in California. It was immediately hailed as “historic” by the defenders of individual freedoms. Particular recognition goes to the influential ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) association, which considers facial recognition “dangerous” and “incompatible with a healthy democracy”. ACLU invites the rest of the United States to follow these new standards set by San Francisco “to ensure,” the association writes, “that the technology is used for and not against people.