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San Francisco proposal would ban government facial recognition use in the city

Would become first city in the nation to ban the tech

Facial Recognition Illustration by James Bareham / The Verge

A San Francisco lawmaker is introducing legislation today that would make the city the first in the nation to ban the government use of facial recognition technology.

The Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance, set to be proposed by supervisor Aaron Peskin, would require departments in the city to seek approval from the Board of Supervisors before using or buying surveillance technology, a check that other cities have already implemented. The legislation would also create annual audits of surveillance technology to ensure the tools are properly used.

If approved, the ordinance would also create a blanket ban that stops those departments from purchasing or using facial recognition technology. The legislation, which would also apply to law enforcement, would represent a new step in the battle over the powerful tool.

The proposal comes at a precarious time for facial recognition tech. Despite documented issues of error and bias, federal regulation of the technology has been elusive. Microsoft has called for a law to guide its use, and various experts have suggested what that regulation could look like. Those proposals have included an outright ban as well as lighter regulation that would attempt to curb potential abuse.

The legislation will be heard in committee next month, and it has gained support from civil rights groups, including the ACLU of Northern California.