Oakland Approves Face Recognition Surveillance Ban as Congress Moves To Require Government Transparency

July 17, 2019 4:45 am

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NEW YORK — Congress and multiple cities are taking action to bring face recognition surveillance technology under democratic control.

Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (H.R. 3494) requiring reporting by the Director of National Intelligence on government use of face recognition technology, its accuracy, policies and procedures to safeguard human rights, and potential impact on First Amendment rights. The amendment also affirms members’ belief that the technology should not be sold to foreign governments who will use it to violate human rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union earlier sent a letter to members of Congress urging they vote for the amendment introduced by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC).

“It is encouraging that Congress has united across party lines to recognize that this surveillance technology presents an unprecedented threat to our most fundamental democratic values,” said ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Neema Singh Guliani. “The amendment is a good first step in bringing some much-needed transparency to the government’s growing and reckless use of face surveillance technology.”

Also late last night, the city of Oakland, Calif., voted to pass an ordinance that would ban municipal use of face recognition technology. Oakland joins Somerville, Mass., and San Francisco, Calif., which passed similar bans this year.

Matt Cagle, Technology and Civil Liberties attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, stated: “Decisions about whether we want to hand the government the power to identify who attends protests, political rallies, church, or AA meetings should not be made in the secret backroom of a police station, lobbied by corporate executives that market this technology. These decisions should be made as Somerville, San Francisco, and now Oakland just made: by the public, including the communities that will be most impacted, through an affirmative vote by their elected representatives.”

The ordinances, and similar proposals currently under consideration in cities across the country, are part of the ACLU’s Community Control Over Police Surveillance (CCOPS) effort. The CCOPS effort is designed to ensure residents — through their local governments and elected officials — are empowered to decide if and how surveillance technologies are used, and to promote government transparency with respect to surveillance technologies.

A second, procedural vote by Oakland’s City Council to finalize passage of the ban is on September 17th.

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