Commentary

Portland Bans Facial-Recognition Technology

Come January, private companies in Portland, Oregon will no longer be allowed to use facial-recognition technology in stores, parks, and other places of public accommodation, under an ordinance passed unanimously by city lawmakers this week.

The measure also immediately prohibits the police from using facial-recognition technology -- although there are some exceptions, including one that would allow police to use the technology to unlock a phone.

Other cities -- including Boston and San Francisco -- have banned the police from using the controversial technology. But Portland is the first to also prohibit private businesses from deploying it.

Currently, some retailers use facial recognition to identify possible shoplifters, while airlines used the technology to identify passengers at check-ins. But the full extent of its use by businesses remains unknown.

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Privacy advocates are cheering Portland's move.

“Every city council should follow suit!,” Fight for the Future's Evan Greer tweeted Wednesday evening, after the vote.

“Corporate use of facial recognition can be just as dangerous and discriminatory as government and law enforcement use,” Greer added.

But others -- including the Portland Business Alliance, Technology Association of Oregon, Security Industry Association, the International Biometrics and Identity Association, and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation -- opposed the ban.

“When cities ban facial recognition, they restrict their opportunities for innovation,” Ashley Johnson, a research analyst with the think tank Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, wrote in an op-ed for The Oregonian.

"Schools can use the technology to prevent potentially dangerous people from entering, keeping students safe. Libraries can offer residents the option to use it to replace library cards, making the process of checking out books quicker and easier,” Johnson wrote.

Privacy advocates and businesses have long been at odds over facial-recognition technology.

Back in 2015, a coalition of privacy groups walked out of an Obama-administration initiative aimed at forging a consensus on privacy standards for facial-recognition technology.

The privacy advocates said at the time that consensus was unlikely, given the vast differences in views between themselves and business groups.

The most significant difference at the time centered on whether companies should obtain people's explicit consent to identify them via facial-recognition technology.

At a base minimum, people should be able to walk down a public street without fear that companies they’ve never heard of are tracking their every movement -- and identifying them by name -- using facial recognition technology,” the privacy groups stated in 2015.

1 comment about "Portland Bans Facial-Recognition Technology".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, September 11, 2020 at 10:30 a.m.

    Yes, and the mayor has banned the police use of tear gas, too. It's an interesting approach to safety.

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