San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin proposes citywide ban on facial recognition technology

San Francisco could be the first city in the nation to ban the use of facial recognition surveillance technology under proposed legislation announced Tuesday by Supervisor Aaron Peskin.

The legislation echoes ordinances adopted by cities including Oakland and Berkeley, as well as by BART, that call for approval by the Board of Supervisors before city agencies or law enforcement adopt new surveillance technologies as well as use policies for existing technologies.

However the new proposal takes things a step further with an outright ban on facial recognition technology. Civil rights groups have raised concerns about the threat to privacy and safety posed by facial recognition, as well problems with accuracy.

“We know that facial recognition technology, which has the biases of the people who developed it, disproportionately misidentifies people of color and women,” Peskin said Tuesday. “This is a fact.”

BART officials came under fire over the summer when they began exploring the implementation of a surveillance system and former BART board member Nick Josefowitz expressed interest in facial recognition software that could help identify specific individuals, such as those with arrest warrants.

Ultimately, BART’s board instead approved in September an ordinance requiring public notice and board approval for surveillance equipment and technology involving the use of personally identifiable information.

The Board of Supervisors may only approve new surveillance technology under the ordinance if it finds the benefits outweigh the costs, that civil rights will be protected and that no community or group will suffer a disparate impact as a result

Peskin on Tuesday portrayed his measure as an extension of the “Privacy First Policy,” approved by voters in November, which sets new limits and transparency requirements on the collection and use of personal data by city agencies and by companies doing business with the city.

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