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Oakland becomes third US city to ban use of facial recognition

Image credit: Pixinoo | Dreamstime.com

Oakland in California has become the third city in the US to ban the police use of facial-recognition technology on its citizens.

The decree banning the municipal use of facial recognition-technology was passed by Oakland’s City Council. It has joined the likes of San Francisco and Somerville in Massachusetts, which banned the technology in May and June, respectively, in a bid to protect the privacy of their residents.

“Face-recognition technology runs the risk of making Oakland residents less safe as the misidentification of individuals could lead to the misuse of force, false incarceration, and minority-based persecution,” the ordinance said.

Although the police in Oakland do not use facial-recognition software at present, the ban will prevent them from doing so in the future.

The new ordinance passed by the city’s council describes the technology, which is intended to be used by authorities to identify suspects of a crime, as highly inaccurate.

The report also said these systems “rely on biased data sets with high level of inaccuracy,” and also highlighted “a lack of standards around the used and sharing of this technology” as well as an “invasive nature”.

Furthermore, the report raised the issue of “potential abuses of data by our government that could lead to persecution of minority groups,” as agreed by Oakland City Council president Rebecca Kaplan.

Previous studies have shown that facial-recognition systems are often biased against women and minorities. Amazon’s Rekognition technology has previously revealed flaws after mistaking 28 members of Congress as criminals. Despite this, police forces in Oregon are reportedly making use of the software.

Matt Cagle from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said that given leeway on the use of such technology in the field would give law enforcement “unprecedented ability to track people”.

Anne Kirkpatrick, Oakland’s chief of police, filed a response to the ban suggesting the city council amend its plans, but admits the technology is not perfect.

“Facial recognition technology can serve as [a] powerful tool for law enforcement agencies,” she said. “However, the technology is far from perfect and can lead to false positives.”

Meanwhile in the UK, MPs have called for a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology by the police and other authorities.

MPs from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee warned that UK police forces were failing to update a database of custody images and remove those of people who had not been convicted.

“We call on the Government to issue a moratorium on the current use of facial-recognition technology and no further trials should take place until a legislative framework has been introduced and guidance on trial protocols, and an oversight and evaluation system, has been established,” MPs wrote.

Last week, lawmakers raised concerns about possible mishandling of data uploaded to FaceApp, an app that allows users to to take and share realistic aged-up photographs as part of the currently trending ‘FaceApp Challenge’. 

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