Oakland follows San Francisco’s lead in banning facial recognition tech

The council is fighting back against privacy violations made possible through facial surveillance.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Oakland's City Council has unanimously voted to ban the use of facial recognition technologies by local government agencies, becoming the third US city to tackle the issue of facial surveillance head-on. 

City officials will not permit facial recognition technologies in the area, made possible through an amendment to the Oakland Surveillance and Community Safety Ordinance.

Oakland police do not use facial recognition technology or software at present, and the ban will prevent them from doing so in the future.

City Council President Rebecca Kaplan cited technological limitations, errors, a lack of standards around its use, and the potential persecution of minorities as reasons to back the ban.

Previous studies have shown that facial recognition systems are often biased against women and minorities. Amazon's Rekognition facial recognition technology, too, has previously revealed flaws after mistaking 28 members of Congress as criminals. 

Despite this, police forces in Oregon are reportedly making use of the software.

See also: San Francisco bans police from using facial recognition tech on residents

Matt Cagle from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said that given leave to use such technology in the field, law enforcement would have an "unprecedented ability to track people."

A procedural second reading is required and scheduled for 17 September.

The decision follows a similar proposal accepted in May to prevent law enforcement from using facial recognition technology on residents in San Francisco.

City officials approved the restriction with a vote of eight to one in a bid to protect residents from becoming guinea pigs for tests involving facial recognition, which may be particularly significant considering how the city is now a melting pot of startups and pilot technology schemes. 

Under the terms of the San Francisco bill, US police must be transparent about how and when they use facial recognition technology applications -- especially when funding or grants are involved. 

TechRepublic: Lateral phishing: Hackers are taking over business accounts to send malicious emails

"The propensity for facial recognition technology to endanger civil rights and civil liberties substantially outweighs its purported benefits, and the technology will exacerbate racial injustice and threaten our ability to live free of continuous government monitoring," the San Francisco ordinance reads. 

Somerville, too, has taken the same steps to prevent the widespread, covert use of facial recognition technologies on its residents. 

Earlier this month, it was reported that the FBI and ICE are mining DMV databases for facial recognition data without the knowledge or consent of US drivers. Georgetown Law researchers said the agencies were using information stored by DMV for the purposes of registering vehicle ownership and drivers for gathering data in "low level" crime investigations and surveillance. 

CNET: Amazon Rekognition police tryout gets washed out in Orlando, report says

These are the worst hacks, cyberattacks, and data breaches of 2019 (so far)

Previous and related coverage

Have a tip? Get in touch securely via WhatsApp | Signal at +447713 025 499, or over at Keybase: charlie0

Editorial standards