Should Facial Recognition Technology Be Banned?

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Should Facial Recognition Technology Be Banned?

Facial recognition is a technology that uses statistical measurements of people’s facial features to digitally identify them in photos, videos or real-time.

Have you ever used any kind of facial recognition technology — say, to verify your identity at the airport, unlock your smartphone, sort and tag photos online, or anything else?

What are your thoughts on it? Does it excite you or creep you out? How would you feel if the police and other government agencies were to use this technology in your community? Why?

In “San Francisco Bans Facial Recognition Technology,” Kate Conger, Richard Fausset and Serge F. Kovaleski write about why the city has decided to outlaw its use by law enforcement:

San Francisco, long at the heart of the technology revolution, took a stand against potential abuse on Tuesday by banning the use of facial recognition software by the police and other agencies.

The action, which came in an 8-to-1 vote by the Board of Supervisors, makes San Francisco the first major American city to block a tool that many police forces are turning to in the search for both small-time criminal suspects and perpetrators of mass carnage.

The authorities used the technology to help identify the suspect in the mass shooting at an Annapolis, Md., newspaper last June. But civil liberty groups have expressed unease about the technology’s potential abuse by government amid fears that it may shove the United States in the direction of an overly oppressive surveillance state.

Aaron Peskin, the city supervisor who sponsored the bill, said that it sent a particularly strong message to the nation, coming from a city transformed by tech.

“I think part of San Francisco being the real and perceived headquarters for all things tech also comes with a responsibility for its local legislators,” Mr. Peskin said. “We have an outsize responsibility to regulate the excesses of technology precisely because they are headquartered here.”

But critics said that rather than focusing on bans, the city should find ways to craft regulations that acknowledge the usefulness of face recognition. “It is ridiculous to deny the value of this technology in securing airports and border installations,” said Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law expert at George Washington University. “It is hard to deny that there is a public safety value to this technology.”

There will be an obligatory second vote next week, but it is seen as a formality.

Similar bans are under consideration in Oakland and in Somerville, Mass., outside of Boston. In Massachusetts, a bill in the State Legislature would put a moratorium on facial recognition and other remote biometric surveillance systems. On Capitol Hill, a bill introduced last month would ban users of commercial face recognition technology from collecting and sharing data for identifying or tracking consumers without their consent, although it does not address the government’s uses of the technology.

Matt Cagle, a lawyer with the A.C.L.U. of Northern California, on Tuesday summed up the broad concerns of facial recognition: The technology, he said, “provides government with unprecedented power to track people going about their daily lives. That’s incompatible with a healthy democracy.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

— What are some of the potential benefits of law enforcement and government having access to facial recognition technology? If it were used in your community, do you think you would feel safer? Why or why not?

— In the related video, Aaron Peskin, the city supervisor who sponsored the bill, says:

“It’s psychologically unhealthy when people know they’re being watched in every aspect of the public realm, on the streets, in parks. That’s not the kind of city I want to live in.”

Do you agree? How would you feel if you knew that every time you went out in public you were being watched and could easily be identified through this technology? How would it change your behavior?

— Studies have shown that some of the most popular surveillance systems show bias; African-Americans, women and others are more likely than white men to be incorrectly identified. What risks might these groups face if facial recognition technology were used for policing? In your opinion, how big of an issue is this bias, and why?

— Do you think it’s too early to completely ban this technology? If surveillance does have public safety value, is it irresponsible not to use it? Could a ban limit its future development and potential? Or, is outlawing it the best way to make sure it doesn’t spiral out of control?

— What other potential benefits or dangers do you foresee with the use of facial recognition technology?

— Considering all of the above, do you think the use of facial recognition technology by the police or government should be banned? If so, why? If not, what limits, if any, should be placed on its use?