San Francisco Votes to Ban Use of Facial Recognition Software

The tech capital of the U.S has banned the software saying its use may infringe on human rights.
Jessica Miley

San Francisco has taken the unusual step of banning the use of facial recognition software by police and other agencies. The Board of Supervisors voted 8-to-1 to block the use of the tool that has many concerned about the invasion of personal privacy.


The technology has been used in the city by law enforcement organization to search for criminal suspects. It was integral to the identification of the suspects in the mass shooting in identify the suspect in the mass shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper Headquarters last June. Supporters of the ban say the risk of abuse of the technology is just too high.

Is there a middle ground?

The blocking of facial recognition software in the capital of the U.S’s technology field sends a strong message to other cities and counties. Opponents to the decision say that there should have been more time to negotiate safer ways to use the technology rather than an outright ban.

The usefulness of being able to quickly identify a person using a combination of video and software has its advantages. Critics say the technology is needed to fight crime. Other North American cities are expected to follow San Francisco's lead. Oakland, California and Somerville, Mass., outside of Boston will are expected to make a decision about the technology in the coming months.

Software used across the world

A bill will go before Congress that proposes to ban the use of commercial facial recognition software from collecting and tracking consumer information. But the bill does not include use of the technology by law enforcement and other government agencies.

Facial recognition software is being used across the country in various forms.

Airlines have adopted systems that do away with board passes and instead scan passengers faces to check they are eligible to fly.

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China embraces surveillance techniques

Use of the technology has been widely reported in China. The government uses the technology to track citizens going about their daily business as well as identify monitor Muslim minorities.

A trial is running in some Chinese schools that employ facial recognition systems that track the faces of children in the classroom to observe if they are paying attention in class.

Government-run Chinese website Hangzhou reported that a school has installed the cameras above a blackboard in a classroom that will monitor the kids in class. The cameras and software system can recognize the children's facial expressions and use the data to check if they are paying attention.

The system can recognize seven different facial expressions - neutral, happy, sad, disappointed, angry, scared, and surprised. If the system recognizes that children aren’t following the lesson the data is fed back to the teacher.

It seems that the system has only been installed into one classroom so far, but there are plans for it to be rolled out across the entire school by the summer.

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