San Francisco bans facial recognition technology

16 May 2019

The Board of Supervisors in the city of San Francisco adopted an anti-surveillance ordinance which, among other provisions, bans the use of facial-recognition technology by the police and other city departments. Due to enter into force in a month, the ordinance includes an exception for the San Francisco International Airport and the Port of San Francisco, both under federal control. It also does not contain provisions preventing the use of facial recognition technology by businesses or residents of the city. The measure was welcomed by civil rights groups: the American Civil Liberties Union commended city authorities for 'declar[ing] that face surveillance technology is incompatible with a healthy democracy and that residents deserve a voice in decisions about high-tech surveillance'. The ordinance also provides that any city department that wants to use surveillance technology needs to get approval from the Board of Supervisors.​

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Privacy and data protection are two interrelated Internet governance issues. Data protection is a legal mechanism that ensures privacy. Privacy is usually defined as the right of any citizen to control their own personal information and to decide about it (to disclose information or not). Privacy is a fundamental human right. It is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in many other international and regional human rights conventions. The July 2015 appointment of the first UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age reflects the rising importance of privacy in global digital policy, and the recognition of the need to address privacy rights issues the the global, as well as national levels.


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