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Portland passes strongest facial recognition ban in the US

Portland passes strongest facial recognition ban in the US


The law bans both public and private use of the technology

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Panoramic Portland Oregon Skyline on Columbia River
Photo by: Visions of America/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Portland City Council has passed the toughest facial recognition ban in the US, blocking both public and private use of the technology. Other cities such as Boston, San Francisco, and Oakland have passed laws barring public institutions from using facial recognition, but Portland is the first to prohibit private use. The ban passed unanimously, according to CNET, CNN, and OneZero.

The new law is actually established as two ordinances. The one prohibiting public use of facial recognition (PDF here) is now in effect, and city bureaus must complete an assessment of their facial recognition usage within 90 days. The ordinance prohibiting private use (PDF here) takes effect on January 1st, 2021.

“Portlanders should never be in fear of having their right of privacy be exploited”

“Portlanders should never be in fear of having their right of privacy be exploited by either their government or by a private institution,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said during a hearing Wednesday, according to OneZero.

Facial recognition software has been found to have age, race, and ethnic biases, leading to questions about civil liberties and misidentification of individuals by law enforcement, and Portland City Council Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty reportedly touched on those concerns in a statement at the hearing.

“I believe what we’re passing is model legislation that the rest of the country will be emulating as soon as we have completed our work here,” Hardesty said, according to OneZero. “This is really about making sure that we are prioritizing our most vulnerable community members and community members of color,” she continued.

The ACLU voiced its support of the legislation in a statement on Wednesday, while also referencing some of the recent police brutality against protesters in the city. “We hope the passage of this landmark legislation in Portland will spur efforts to enact statewide legislation that protects all Oregonians from the broad range of ways that our biometric information is collected, stored, sold, and used without our permission,” said Jann Carson, interim executive director of the ACLU of Oregon.

Amazon spent $24,000 lobbying Portland’s city council commissioners against the ban, OneZero reports. The company’s been under fire for selling its Rekognition software to police departments, and only recently agreed to a temporary one-year moratorium on providing police with the technology.