5 Years After San Francisco Banned Face Recognition, Voters Ask for Extra Surveillance

San Francisco made historical past in 2019 when its Board of Supervisors voted to ban metropolis companies together with the police division from utilizing face recognition. About two dozen different US cities have since adopted swimsuit. However on Tuesday, San Francisco voters appeared to show in opposition to the concept of limiting police expertise, backing a poll proposition that can make it simpler for metropolis police to deploy drones and different surveillance instruments.

Proposition E handed with 60 % of the vote and was backed by San Francisco mayor London Breed. It provides the San Francisco Police Division new freedom to put in public safety cameras and deploy drones with out oversight from the town’s Police Fee or Board of Supervisors. It additionally loosens a requirement that SFPD get clearance from the Board of Supervisors earlier than adopting new surveillance expertise, permitting approval to be sought any time throughout the first 12 months.

Matt Cagle, a senior employees legal professional with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, says these adjustments go away the prevailing ban on face recognition in place however loosen different vital protections. “We’re involved that Proposition E will lead to folks in San Francisco being topic to unproven and harmful expertise,” he says. “It is a cynical try by highly effective pursuits to use fears about crime and shift extra energy to the police.”

Mayor Breed and different backers have positioned it as a solution to concern about crime in San Francisco. Crime figures have broadly declined, however fentanyl has not too long ago pushed a rise in overdose deaths, and business downtown neighborhoods are nonetheless battling pandemic-driven workplace and retail vacancies. The proposition was additionally supported by teams related to the tech trade, together with the marketing campaign group GrowSF, which didn’t reply to a request for remark.

“By supporting the work of our law enforcement officials, increasing our use of expertise, and getting officers out from behind their desks and onto our streets, we’ll proceed in our mission to make San Francisco a safer metropolis,” Mayor Breed stated in an announcement on the proposition passing. She famous that 2023 noticed the bottom crime charges in a decade within the metropolis—apart from a pandemic blip in 2020—with charges of property crime and violent crime persevering with to say no additional in 2024.

Proposition E additionally provides police extra freedom to pursue suspects in automobile chases and reduces paperwork obligations, together with when officers resort to make use of of pressure.

Caitlin Seeley George, managing director and marketing campaign director for Battle for the Future, a nonprofit that has lengthy campaigned in opposition to using face recognition, calls the proposition “a blow to the hard-fought reforms that San Francisco has championed in recent times to rein in surveillance.”

“By increasing police use of surveillance expertise, whereas concurrently lowering oversight and transparency, it undermines peoples’ rights and can create situations the place persons are at better danger of hurt,” George says.

Though Cagle of the ACLU shares her considerations that San Francisco residents shall be much less secure, he says the town ought to retain its popularity for having catalyzed a US-wide pushback in opposition to surveillance. San Francisco’s 2019 ban on face recognition was adopted by about two dozen different cities, a lot of which additionally added new oversight mechanisms for police surveillance.

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