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  1. ITV Report

San Francisco becomes first US city to ban police use of facial recognition technology

Facial recognition software will not be allowed to be used by San Francisco police. Credit: ITV News

San Francisco officials have voted to ban the use of facial recognition software, becoming the first US city to do so.

The emerging technology will not be allowed to be used by local agencies, such as police and the city’s transport authority.

The ban is part of broader legislation that requires city departments to establish usage policies and obtain board approval for surveillance technology they want to purchase, or are using at present.

However the new rules will not apply to security measures at San Francisco’s airport or sea port, as they are run by federal, not local, agencies.

A number of protests have taken place over facial recognition techniques. Credit: AP

Those in favour of the move said the technology as it exists is unreliable, and represented an unnecessary infringement on people’s privacy.

Opponents also argued the systems are error prone, particularly when dealing with women or people with darker skin.

City supervisor Aaron Peskin, who championed the legislation, said: "This is really about saying: 'We can have security without being a security state. We can have good policing without being a police state.'

"And part of that is building trust with the community based on good community information, not on Big Brother technology."

However, critics said police need all the help they can get, especially in a city with high-profile events and high rates of property crime.

"I worry about politicising these decisions," said supervisor Catherine Stefani, a former prosecutor who was the sole "no" vote.

Civil liberties campaigners have pushed for a ban on the technology Credit: AP

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a non-profit think tank based in Washington, DC, issued a statement chiding San Francisco for considering the facial recognition ban.

It said advanced technology makes it cheaper and faster for police to find suspects and identify missing people.

Daniel Castro, the foundation’s vice president, said critics were silly to compare surveillance usage in the US with China, given that one country has strong constitutional protections and the other does not.

He said: "In reality, San Francisco is more at risk of becoming Cuba than China - a ban on facial recognition will make it frozen in time with outdated technology."

San Francisco’s police department stopped testing face ID technology in 2017 but a number of other police forces across the US still use the software.