Local government agencies in San
Francisco are prohibited from using facial recognition technology as a
surveillance tool in criminal investigations for fear it might be inaccurate,
the city’s Board of Supervisors decided in a 8-1 vote on Tuesday, according
to The New York Times

The initiative likely passed as a
precautionary measure because neither local police nor the sheriff’s office use
facial recognition technology in suspect pursuit currently, even though some
tests were performed in the past years to check its efficiency. The ban does
not affect federal agencies such as airport security, or businesses and
individuals, who will still be able to use facial recognition on devices such
as iPhones.

The ban was introduced in January
by supervisor Aaron Peskin, together with other proposals, such as the
requirement for city administrators to approve any future acquisition of
surveillance technology and publicly disclose the reasons behind its

 “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,” Peskin said. “We have an outsize responsibility to
regulate the excesses of technology precisely because they are headquartered

A second, obligatory, vote will
follow next week so it can be passed into law.

San Francisco is the first US
city to introduce a ban on facial recognition, but other cities in the country
such as Oakland and Somerville, Massachusetts, are likely to follow and change
local legislation.

While supporters of the measure argue
facial recognition in its current format is unreliable and errors could
jeopardize civil liberties, opponents believe it is crucial in fighting crime.

“With this vote, San
Francisco has declared that face surveillance technology is incompatible with a
healthy democracy and that residents deserve a voice in decisions about
high-tech surveillance,” said Matt Cagle from
the American Civil Liberties Union in Northern California.

“We applaud the city for
listening to the community, and leading the way forward with this crucial
legislation. Other cities should take note and set up similar safeguards to
protect people’s safety and civil rights.”