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article imageOakland California bans city use of facial recognition software

By Ken Hanly     Jul 17, 2019 in Technology
Oakland - The Oakland California city council voted unanimously for a ban on city agencies using facial recognition technology. Oakland is the third city to pass such legislation after neighboring San Francisco and Somerville, Massachusetts.
Who is covered by the ban?
The ban will cover Oakland municipal agencies, including city police from either obtaining or using the facial recognition technology. Although the council will vote again on the ordinance in September this is seen as just procedural.
Civil rights groups support such legislation
The legislation has been pressed by civil rights advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union. In a statement, Matt Cagle, technology and civil liberties attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, described the vote as a win for the city and made it accountable: “These decisions should be made as Somerville, San Francisco, and now Oakland just made: by the public, including the communities that will be most impacted, through an affirmative vote by their elected representatives.".
Many have concerns about facial recognition technology
Facial recognition software has raised concern both among civil rights advocates and lawmakers due to the potential of their use being abused. Privacy advocates are concerned that the technology could lead to ubiquitous public surveillance much worse than what we have at present. Experts have noted too that the technology often does poorly at identifying people of colour.
Companies represent the software as being both efficient and accurate but as a recent article points out this is far from accurate itself as a description: "Companies market facial recognition technology as “a highly efficient and accurate tool” with “an identification rate above 95 percent.” In reality, these claims are almost impossible to verify. The facial-recognition algorithms used by police are not required to undergo public or independent testing to determine accuracy or check for bias before being deployed on everyday citizens. More worrying still, the limited testing that has been done on these systems has uncovered a pattern of racial bias."
Major companies still sell the technology
Major companies such as Amazon continue to sell facial recognition technology to police departments in spite of criticism from experts and even some Amazon employees. Documents released by the ACLU show that Orlando in Florida actually worked with Amazon to create a system that detects "persons of interest" in real time using 8 public-security cameras. Since this is just a pilot program no policy has been set according to a city spokesperson responding to a query as to whether there were any guidelines for the system's use. Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation said: “This is a perfect example of technology outpacing the law. There are no rules.”
So far there has been no federal legislation on the issue even though the city bans show how much concern there is about use of the technology. The US House of Representatives did have a hearing on the issue but there was no agreement on any regulations of the technology.
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