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Oakland, Ca. second Bay Area city to ban facial recognition technology

Christian Fernsby |
The city of Oakland in Northern California has become the second Bay Area city to outlaw the use of facial recognition technology by municipal agencies following a unanimous vote by its council to approve the ban.

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The City Council of Oakland passed unanimously an ordinance late Tuesday to prohibit municipal agencies including city police from acquiring or using facial technology in law enforcement. A final vote on the legislation, which is widely seen as procedural, will take place in September this year.

Rebecca Kaplan, president of Oakland City Council, who introduced the ordinance, said in a tweet Wednesday that she appreciated everyone's effort to join "together in working to block flawed technology that invades privacy and worsens racial disparities in policing."

The latest legislation made Oakland the second Bay Area city to forbid the controversial technology after San Francisco adopted a similar ban in May 2019. Oakland is also the third U.S. city to declare facial technology illegal following a decision by Somerville city in Massachusetts to join the rank of San Francisco in June.

The ordinance called facial recognition technology "an automated or semi-automated process that assists in identifying or verifying an individual based on an individual's face."

Kaplan said the powerful technology runs the risk of making Oakland residents less safe because it is often inaccurate, invasive and lacks established ethical standards with high possibilities of being abused by government agencies.

Earlier Tuesday, a California rights advocacy group urged Oakland city to ban the use of facial technology, which it claimed would "lead to new violations of civil rights."

The Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a nationwide non-profit fighting for individual rights, wrote a letter to the members of the Oakland City Council, urging the city to pass the ordinance to protect Oakland residents from "dangerous, invasive, and biased systems that endanger their civil rights and safety."

The ACLU of Northern Northern California on Wednesday welcomed Oakland's legislation. Matt Cagle, the organization's civil liberties attorney, said Oakland's decision indicated how "democracy can work to protect civil rights."

"Decisions about surveillance technology are being made by the public and impacted communities through their elected representatives not by police or vendors acting alone and in secret," he tweeted Wednesday.

However, some other organizations supporting the technology argued that the ban would hurt the law-enforcing capabilities of police officers when they are called for help.


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