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U.S.-Wide Effort to Rethink Facial Recognition Technology Grows

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A pending bill in the Massachusetts legislature to put a moratorium on facial recognition and other remote biometric surveillance systems is the latest example of growing efforts in cities and states to rethink the technology that has begun to transform policing.

After San Francisco banned the use of facial recognition software by police and other agencies, similar bans are under consideration in Oakland and in Somerville, Ma., near Boston. A bill in Congress would ban users of commercial face recognition technology from collecting and sharing data for identifying or tracking consumers without their consent, reports the New York Times.


San Francisco’s action came in an 8-to-1 vote Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors, making it the first major U.S. city to block a tool that many police forces are using.

Authorities used the technology to help identify the suspect in the mass shooting at the Annapolis, Md., Capital Gazette last June. Civil liberties groups have expressed unease about the technology’s potential abuse by government amid fears that it may push the U.S. in the direction of an overly oppressive surveillance state.

Critics say that rather than focusing on bans, cities should find ways to craft regulations that acknowledge the usefulness of face recognition.

“It is ridiculous to deny the value of this technology in securing airports and border installations,” said law Prof. Jonathan Turley of George Washington University. “It is hard to deny that there is a public safety value to this technology.”

In one form or another, facial recognition is already being used in many airports and big stadiums, and by a number of other police departments. Pop star Taylor Swift has reportedly incorporated the technology, using it to help identify stalkers. San Francisco actually do not use the technology, and it is used now at the international airport and ports that are under federal jurisdiction.

Additional Reading: 

Critics Call for Regulating Facial Recognition

Why Liberal Policing Shouldn’t Be a Contradiction in Terms

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