By Carlos Gamino

The city of San Francisco is rather cutting-edge. With its proximity to Silicon Valley, which lies just south along US-101, the city’s government usually embraces new tech. However, the City by the Bay has now become the first to ban use of facial recognition technology by police and city agencies.

The city’s Board of Supervisors voted on the rule in mid-May, and the measure also requires all city departments to disclose the surveillance technologies that they currently use or will use in the future. Agencies also have to spell out policies that will be submitted to the Board of Supervisors for approval.

But governments all over the world, including our own, have used facial recognition technology for years. In some cases, it’s helped find missing children and prevented driver’s license fraud.

However, a study published by the MIT Media Lab earlier this year says that facial recognition software has a hard time identifying people’s gender when they’re female or when they’re darker-skinned. Some Chinese iPhone X users claim that Apple’s technology is full of problems, too, saying that it can’t distinguish between many users and allows the wrong people to unlock phones.

The Chinese government is actually using face scans of its citizens to racially profile ethnic Muslims in the country. Software built right into China’s huge network of surveillance cameras can look exclusively for Uighurs based on their appearance – and the government keeps records of all of it for search and review. (They also use software to track people’s DNA.)

It looks like San Francisco’s city government wants to avoid going down that rabbit hole – but some people, particularly those who profit on the development of facial recognition technology – disagree.

“They’re saying, let’s basically ban the technology across the board, and that’s what seems extreme, because there are many uses of the technology that are perfectly appropriate,” said Daniel Castro, vice president of the Technology and Innovation Foundation, an industry-backed group. “We want to use the technology to find missing elderly adults. We want to use it to fight sex trafficking. We want to use it to quickly identify a suspect in case of a terrorist attack. These are very reasonable uses of the technology, and so to ban it wholesale is a very extreme reaction to a technology that many people are just now beginning to understand.”

But Georgetown University researchers discovered that there’s more than a 50 percent chance that you’re already in a law enforcement facial recognition database. The American Civil Liberties Union says, “The government has no business tracking when we leave our homes, when we go to a park or place of worship, and that’s the sort of power that facial recognition technology gives the government.”

What Do You Think?

Do you think the San Francisco city government was wrong for banning facial recognition technology, or do you believe it’s something necessary that they should embrace? I’d love for you to share your thoughts on this, so join me on Facebook or on Twitter and chime in!

Carlos Gamino