Portland, Oregon has passed a ban on the use of facial recognition technology. As reported by CNET these bans cover government agencies as well as private business and look to be the harshest bans around.
Issues around privacy and the banning of facial recognition have been around for a while. Bernie Sanders popularized the view back in 2019 when he pushed or a ban on police use of the technology.
Interestingly enough, the pandemic has also had an important impact on facial recognition technology. As most of the world's population has begun wearing masks the algorithms used to detect faces can no longer cope. This means engineers are having to find a solution to tackle the change in the way we have begun living.
These bans take a harsh stance on facial recognition technology. In the two cities mentioned the legislation blocks private companies from using the technology as well as government agencies.
Bans passed on the use of facial recognition technology
Other cities have taken bans on the technology. However, cities like San Francisco, Boston and Oakland only focussed on government agencies. These bans extend out onto private businesses as well.
The bill passed unanimously when debated and it will take effect in January 2021. This means police agencies can no longer use the technology to identify suspects in Portland.
It also means that stores and businesses cannot use the technology either. Given some stores use the technology to identify and catch shoplifters this could be quite a blow to them.
The ban also extends to airports which will affect airlines like Delta who use it for boarding purposes. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has made a statement on the issue.
He said, "all Portlanders are entitled to a city government that will not use technology with demonstrated racial and gender biases that endanger personal privacy".
Ban marks the beginning of a move to outlaw facial recognition technology
Some believe that bans like this are the first move in the eventual outlawing of facial recognition technology. Companies such as Microsoft and Amazon have already paused their facial recognition work with police due to ethical concerns.
Many businesses, however, still use the technology and can pass that data over to law enforcement agencies. When this happens the line between public and private use of facial recognition becomes heavily blurred.
San Fransisco police did just this when they used a store's technology to identify suspects in July. This becomes even more worrying when you consider that facial recognition technology tends to have issues with racial and gender bias.
Detroit's police department even admitted that its facial recognition misidentified people "96% of the time". This has led to wrongful arrests on multiple occasions.
Law enforcement agencies have to hit higher thresholds of confidence when using this technology. However, private businesses do not. This means it is a lot easier to get banned from a store because of being misidentified through facial recognition.
National lawmakers are looking to pass some legislation nationwide as it has come in city by city over recent months.
How this legislation may look is still up in the air. For example, Portland's most recent ban goes beyond limiting the technology and fully outlaws it. Whilst other cities have been less harsh.
Potentially this has set a bit of a precedent for cities in the future. How this plays out on a national and local level could be fascinating as authorities scramble to protect their citizens against the issues of facial recognition technology.