Oakland, California, bars city from using facial recognition technology

  • TECH
  • Friday, 19 Jul 2019

A surveillance camera system attached to a light pole. The Oakland, Calif., City Council voted to prohibit the use of facial recognition technology by the city's police department. (Srdjan Randjelovic/Dreamstime/TNS)

OAKLAND, California: Oakland police and other city departments will not use facial recognition technology under a new policy – the third of its kind in the United States. 

The Oakland City Council unanimously approved the policy on July 16. 

San Francisco was the first US city to prohibit the facial recognition technology in May, and Somerville, Massachussetts, prohibited the technology in June. A second required vote on Oakland’s ordinance is scheduled for the Sept 17 City Council meeting, after which the policy would go into effect. 

The technology has been widely criticised for infringing on people’s privacy, and a 2008 report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found the technology disproportionately misidentifies people of colour. 

“It is literally racially biased policing software; we don’t need this in our town,” Tracy Rosenberg of the citizen group Oakland Privacy said at the July 16 meeting. 

The ordinance faced backlash from the police department, which sought a limited ban that would only apply to “real-time” facial recognition technology. Real-time facial recognition technology scans surveillance footage in “real-time” to spot and track people, while non-real-time technology is used to run mugshots through state and federal databases. 

The police department does not use any real-time facial recognition technology and has no plans to purchase it, according to a report from police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick. 

“Non-real time (facial recognition technology) cannot be used to connect people as they go about their normal course of life and business,” Kirkpatrick said in the report. “However, law enforcement can use (facial recognition technology) to expedite the time-consuming manual process of connecting images from crime scenes to local mug shot databases.” 

The ordinance that passed Tuesday night, however, applies to both real-time and non-real-time facial recognition technology. – The San Jose Mercury News/Tribune News Service

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