SF Supes vote to ban facial recognition technology

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a landmark ordinance, banning city departments from using facial recognition technology and calling for oversight for city departments that wish to use surveillance technology.

The ordinance would require that city departments seeking to acquire surveillance technology with city funds to submit a policy plan to supervisors as well as a surveillance impact report. For departments that already use it, those departments would be required to submit a surveillance technology policy ordinance, outlining the use of the technology. In addition, the city’s controller would be required to audit the use of the technology on a yearly basis and produce a report for supervisors.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who introduced the ordinance, said, “This is not really the top secret surveillance ordinance, it’s really an ordinance that is about having accountability around surveillance technology. And with the narrow exception of the facial recognition technology, this is actually not designed to stop the use of any technologies that we currently employ or may use in the future.” Instead…

…the ordinance is simply to “ensure the safe and responsible use of surveillance technology” by city departments.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin

Ultimately, supervisors passed the ordinance, 8-1 with Supervisor Catherine Stefani dissenting and with Supervisors Shamann Walton and Hillary Ronen absent from the meeting.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California praised the vote. “We applaud the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for bringing democratic oversight to surveillance technology, and for recognizing that face surveillance is incompatible with a healthy democracy,” ACLU officials said in a statement.

“In the hands of the government, face surveillance would supercharge discriminatory policing, stifle civic engagement, and entangle people with ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement).”

American Civil Liberties Union, in praise of the ordinance

Other Bay Area municipalities that have passed similar surveillance technology laws or are considering them include Berkeley, Oakland, Palo Alto and Santa Clara County.

During Tuesday’s meeting, supervisors also unanimously passed an ordinance that would put an end to cashless business in the city by requiring brick-and-mortar shops to accept cash for goods and services. Supervisor Matt Haney, who introduced the ordinance, said it would stop businesses from discriminating against people who don’t have debit or credit cards.

In addition, supervisors also unanimously passed a resolution to rename Gilbert Street to Jeff Adachi Way. Gilbert Street, located between Brannan and Bryant streets, runs parallel to Sixth and Seventh streets and is directly behind the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. The resolution, also introduced by Haney, calls for the Department of Public Works to rename the street and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to install a new sign with “Jeff Adachi Way” written in larger font and “Gilbert Street” in smaller font. After five years, the SFMTA could create a new sign with just the new name.

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