Oakland, Berkeley Might Follow SF’s Facial Recognition Ban

Bans on facial recognition are supported by advocacy groups such as the ACLU, plus artificial intelligence experts who have called for further safeguards before the technology is used by law enforcement.

by Levi Sumagaysay, The Mercury News / June 24, 2019
Oakland, CA flickr/Rich Johnstone

(TNS) — After San Francisco made history last month as the first U.S. city to ban public agencies’ use of facial recognition technology, Oakland and Berkeley could be next with the city councils of both cities possibly considering the bans on the same day.

“There’s a lot of very powerful scientific data about problems with facial recognition, such as false identification,” said Oakland Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, who is sponsoring that city’s proposed ban. She added that minorities especially could be “improperly targeted” with the technology. “We need to be looking at how we can do better, not worse, in terms of racial bias.”

Oakland’s Public Safety Committee is scheduled to take up the issue at its Tuesday meeting. If the committee approves the ban, it would be brought before the full city council July 9, said Kaplan.

The Oakland Police Department would not comment on the proposal, which would ban use of the technology and any data collected by such technology.

Bans on facial recognition are supported by advocacy groups such as the ACLU, plus artificial intelligence experts who have called for further safeguards before the technology is used by law enforcement. Critics of such bans, such as Washington, D.C.-based think tank Information Technology & Innovation Foundation and local crime-prevention groups like Stop Crime SF, have said the bans are short-sighted and could hinder innovation.

July 9 is also the earliest possible date Berkeley’s full city council could consider a similar ban, if the city’s public safety committee approves the proposal at its July 1 meeting.

Councilwoman Kate Harrison sponsored the proposal in Berkeley, where, just like in Oakland, it would be an amendment to the city’s pioneering ordinance that requires city council approval before public agencies can buy surveillance technology. (In San Francisco, the board of supervisors must approve the purchase of such technology.)

The technology could allow the tracking of people “en masse,” Harrison said. “It’s different than taking a picture of someone who’s committed a violent crime. This could be used against groups of people.”

The Berkeley Police Department did not return a request for comment. UC Berkeley’s police department is not under the city’s jurisdiction so would not be subject to the ban, if it’s approved.

The proposed ordinances come after some well-publicized examples of facial recognition’s drawbacks, including a report last year that Amazon’s Rekognition software mistook the faces of members of Congress with people’s mugshots.

©2019 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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