It was reported that the city of Portland, Oregon, on Wednesday imposed a ban on the use of facial recognition technology by the police, city officials, as well as stores, restaurant and hotels.
Portland joins a growing number of states in the United States, including San Francisco, Oakland and Boston, that have banned the use of facial recognition technology in their cities to identify a person based on a facial image. But their decision to prevent both local government and businesses from using the technology appears to be the most radical ban ever imposed by a single city.
Facial recognition technology has largely – and controversially – grown in recent years and appears everywhere, from airport check-in counters to police stations and pharmacies. While it gives a sense of security and convenience to the companies that use it, the technology has been widely criticized by privacy advocates for its embedded racial bias and potential for abuse.
These concerns were clearly borne in mind by city commissioners who voted unanimously in favour of the ban. The new rule not only blocks the use of surveillance technology by the city, but also prevents “individuals in public housing” in Portland from using this technology, referring to companies that serve the public for example, a grocery store or a pizzeria. It doesn’t prevent people from installing facial recognition technology at home, such as a Google Nest camera that can recognize familiar faces, or gadgets that use facial recognition software to authenticate users, such as Apple’s Face ID feature to unlock an iPhone.
While facial recognition technology can help with tasks ranging from solving crimes to checking student attendance at school, it goes hand in hand with fundamental privacy issues. There were concerns about the accuracy and bias of facial recognition technology by Artificial intelligence researchers and civil rights groups, mist notably the American Civil Liberties Union. They are concerned that they are not as effective in correctly recognizing blacks and women. A reason for this could be that the images used to train software can be disproportionately masculine and white.
The mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler, has expressed these concerns along with the concern that facial recognition technology could be used to monitor the protesters. There have been protests in the city since the death of George Floyd in late May.
He said, “Technology exists to make our lives easier, not for public and private institutions to use it as a weapon against the citizens they serve and welcome.”
It was said that as long as there are no federal laws to limit or regulate the use of facial recognition technology, and there are few government laws, local authorities can use their discretion to decide what they can do to regulate the use of such technology. As far as Portland is concerned, the ban starts immediately for the Portland City Government and on January 1 for private uses of the facial recognition technology, which is no longer permitted by law.
The Oregon ACLU released a statement expressing its support for the new law and wrote that a ban on the facial recognition technology is “necessary and prudent to protect the interests, privacy and security of individuals and our communities.”