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Ban on facial recognition tech up for vote in San Francisco

Ordinance would require city agencies -- including the police -- to get supes' approval before spending city funds on the technology.

San Francisco could soon become the first city in the US to ban the use of facial recognition technologies by city agencies.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors rules committee on Monday unanimously approved the "Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance," which would require supervisors' approval before agencies -- including the police department -- could use public funds on the technology. The ordinance faces a final vote before the full Board of Supervisors on May 14.

The proposal is intended to combat an emerging technology that some believe contributes to the creation of a state where all people are under constant government surveillance, according to Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who introduced the ordinance in January.

"Good policing does not mean living in a police state," Peskin said in a tweet. "Living in safe and secure communities does not mean living in a surveillance state."

Facial-recognition technology is commonly used for everyday tasks such as like unlocking phones and tagging friends on social media, but privacy concerns persist. Advances in artificial intelligence and the proliferation of cameras have made it increasingly easy to watch and track what individuals are doing.

Law enforcement agencies frequently rely on technology to help with investigations, but the software isn't without its flaws.

Last year, the ACLU revealed that Amazon was selling its facial recognition technology, Rekognition, to law enforcement agencies in the US, including the Orlando Police Department. An ACLU test of Rekognition in July found that the system mistakenly confused 28 congressmen with known criminals.

"The propensity for facial recognition technology to endanger civil rights and civil liberties substantially outweighs its purported benefits," the proposed ordinance reads. "And the technology will exacerbate racial injustice and threaten our ability to live free of continuous government monitoring."

The concern has gained traction in the Bay Area, which is home to Silicon Valley. The Public Safety Committee in the neighboring city of Oakland is set to consider a similar bar later this month.