Oakland follows SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA and Somerville, Massachusetts in banning the facial recognition technology due to possible misuse.
Oakland, California is among the most third city in america to ban the application of facial recognition in public areas, following SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA and Somerville, Massachusetts which imposed their own restrictions in-may and June, respectively.
As reported by Vice, any facial recognition — thought as "an automated or semi-automated process that assists in identifying or verifying a person based on a person’s face" — can’t be acquired, obtained, requested, or accessed.
It replaces a law from 2018 that required city workers to secure permission from the chair of Oakland’s Privacy Advisory Commission before getting funds for surveillance technology, including those from the state or the government.
Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Council President, wrote a public memo (PDF) outlining her concerns. The memo states that the technology may lead to a "misuse of force, false incarceration, and minority-based persecution," citing specifically a report that showed how this technology "negatively and disproportionately misidentifies darker skinned women."
While advocates of facial recognition have argued that it is simply a tool utilized by police, and that human cops still make the ultimate decisions, the memo highlights numerous instances where cops didn’t take adequate measures to corrobotate the results of their identification system.
Types of these instances are the NY Police Department apprehending a suspect and placing him in a lineup solely based on a face recognition search, sheriffs in Florida who arrested a suspect predicated on facial recognition as the "only corroboration was the officers’ overview of the photograph, presented as the ‘most likely’ match," and a Metro Police Department officer in Washington, D.C. printing out a "possible match" from a facial recognition system and presenting it to the witness for confirmation.
Kaplan’s memo ends stating that: "As the technology behind these face recognition systems continues to boost, it really is natural to assume that the investigative leads are more accurate. Yet without rules governing what can — and cannot — be submitted as a probe photo, that is far from a warranty. Garbage in will still result in garbage out."
In a written report (PDF), Oakland’s Chief of Police Anne Kirkpatrick said that as the Oakland Police department doesn’t have any facial recognition technology and will not intend to acquire it, an outright ban could hinder police. "Staff does think that Oakland’s current surveillance technology provides adequate thresholds for reviewing any possible future requests to check or purchase [facial recognition technology]," Kirkpatrick said.
Much like criminal lineups, that have had their reliability questioned because of both eyewitnesses accuracy and the decisions of the authorities, basing arrests purely on facial identification could be concerning. There were numerous occasions where facial recognition technology has been biased against people who have darker skin, as the technology is only as effective as the data used to teach it. The NY Times reports what sort of study found one widely-used data set was estimated to be "a lot more than 75 percent male and a lot more than 80 percent white."