Oakland city council

Oakland city council on Tuesday banned the use of facial recognition technology by city employees, including the Oakland Police Department. A city ordinance passed which prohibits the city of Oakland from acquiring, obtaining, retaining, requesting, or accessing facial recognition technology, which it describes as an automated or semi-automated process that assists in identifying or verifying an individual based on an individual’s face.

The ordinance amends a 2018 law which needs any city staff member to get approval from the chair of Oakland’s Privacy Advisory Commission seeking funds for the surveillance technology must also be approved by the chair, per the ordinance. In this matter, San Francisco banned the use of facial recognition by police and city government agencies a month ago, making it the first city. Following the ban, Somerville banned the use of Facial recognition likewise.

The Oakland City Council will take a second vote on the ordinance in September, but it would be just a procedural formality. The legislation has pressed by civil rights advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union. In a statement, Matt Cagle, technology and civil liberties attorney with the ACLU of Northern California described the vote as a win for city accountability.

The success of the facial recognition ban from Oakland shows that there is momentum in major U.S. cities behind the idea that we shouldn’t just regulate the use of facial recognition instead we should ban it entirely. As per a public memo by Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland city council president explained the ban was instituted on the basis that facial recognition is often inaccurate, lacks established ethical standards, is invasive in nature, and has a high potential for government abuse.

On the other hand, a report to Oakland public safety committee Chief of Police Anne Kirkpatrick claimed the Oakland Police department doesn’t currently have any technology that could be described as facial recognition and doesn’t have the plan to acquire it now. However, Kirkpatrick argued that facial recognition could help law enforcement and advised against a total ban.

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Facial recognition tool has increased a widespread concern both among advocates and lawmakers, over the potential of abuse. Privacy advocates have questioned whether the technology will lead to an era of advance public surveillance, but experts have also noted that the tools are especially prone to misidentifying people of color. Meanwhile, some major companies like Amazon have opted to continue selling the technology to law enforcement, despite criticism from experts and even some employees.

Last year, Oakland privacy campaigned in favor of a Surveillance Equipment Transparency Ordinance, which requires city surveillance to have public use and privacy policies, data sharing information, and yearly use reports. Last week, House lawmakers held a hearing on facial recognition but there was little agreement on potential regulation.