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San Francisco may ban police, city use of facial recognition

AP  |  San Francisco 

is on track to become the first US city to ban the use of by police and other city agencies, reflecting a growing backlash against a technology that's creeping into airports, motor vehicle departments, stores, stadiums and home cameras.

Government agencies around the U.S. have used the technology for more than a decade to scan databases for suspects and prevent identity fraud.

But recent advances in have created more sophisticated computer vision tools, making it easier for police to pinpoint a missing child or protester in a moving crowd or for retailers to analyze a shopper's facial expressions as they peruse store shelves.

Efforts to restrict its use are getting pushback from groups and the tech industry, though it's far from a united front.

Microsoft, while opposed to an outright ban, has urged lawmakers to set limits on the technology, warning that leaving it unchecked could enable an oppressive dystopia reminiscent of George Orwell's novel "1984."

"Face recognition is one of those technologies that people get how creepy it is," said Alvaro Bedoya, who directs "It's not like cookies on a browser.

There's something about this technology that really sets the hairs on the back of people's heads up."


Without regulations barring from accessing driver's license databases, people who have never been arrested could be part of virtual police line-ups without their knowledge, skeptics of the technology say.

They worry people will one day not be able to go to a park, store or school without being identified and tracked.

Already, a handful of big box stores across the U.S. are trying out cameras with that can guess their customers' age, gender or mood as they walk by, with the goal of showing them targeted, real-time ads on in-store video screens.

If adopts a ban, other cities, states or even could follow, with lawmakers from both parties looking to curtail government and others hoping to restrict how businesses analyze the faces, emotions and gaits of an unsuspecting public.

The Legislature is considering a proposal prohibiting the use of on body cameras. A bipartisan bill in the US Senate would exempt but set limits on businesses analyzing people's faces without their consent.

Legislation similar to San Francisco's is pending in Oakland, California, and on Thursday another proposed ban was introduced in Somerville,

Bedoya said a ban in San Francisco, the "most technologically advanced city in our country," would send a warning to other police departments thinking of trying out the

But Daniel Castro, of the and Innovation Foundation, said the ordinance is too extreme to serve as a model.

"It might find success in San Francisco, but I will be surprised if it finds success in a lot of other cities," he said.

is home to tech innovators such as Uber, and Twitter, but the city's relationship with the industry is testy.

Some supervisors in are calling for a tax on stock-based compensation in response to a wave of San Francisco companies going public, including and

At the same time, San Francisco is big on protecting immigrants, civil liberties and privacy. In November, nearly 60% of voters approved a proposition to strengthen data privacy guidelines.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, May 13 2019. 11:11 IST
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