Earlier this week, Oakland’s City Council voted unanimously to ban local government use of face surveillance. The amendment to Oakland’s Surveillance and Community Safety Ordinance will make Oakland the third U.S. city to take this critical step toward protecting the safety, privacy, and civil liberties of its residents.
Local governments like those in San Francisco, CA; Somerville, MA; and now Oakland, CA are leading the way in proactively heading off the threat of this particularly pernicious form of surveillance. However, after a series of hearings by the House Oversight Committee, national and international policymakers have also begun to look closely at the technology’s threat to human rights and civil liberties.
On the same day that Oakland’s City Council voted to ban government use of the technology, the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act (H.R. 3494) that would require the Director of National Intelligence to report on the use of face surveillance by intelligence agencies. David Kaye, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, has also called for a moratorium on face surveillance saying, "Surveillance tools can interfere with human rights, from the right to privacy and freedom of expression to rights of association and assembly."
Over the last several years, EFF has continuously voiced concerns over the First and Fourth Amendment implications of government use of face surveillance. These concerns are exacerbated by research conducted by MIT’s Media Lab regarding the technology’s high error rates for women and people of color. However, even if manufacturers are successful in addressing the technology’s substantially higher error rates for already marginalized communities, government use of face recognition technology will still threaten safety and privacy, chill free speech, and amplify historical and ongoing discrimination in our criminal system.
Even as Oakland’s face surveillance ban awaits a procedural second reading, lawmakers and community members across the country are considering their own prohibitions and moratoriums on their local government’s use. This week, the Public Safety Committee in the neighboring city of Berkeley, CA held a hearing on their own proposed ban, and lawmakers across the country took to Twitter to share news of their like intentions.
Massachusetts residents, beyond Somerville, hoping to protect their communities from face surveillance should contact their state lawmakers in support of S.1385 and H.1538, the proposed bills calling for a moratorium throughout the Commonwealth. Outside of Massachusetts, as governing bodies across the country adjourn for their summer recess, now is an opportune time to call on your own representatives to take a stand for the rights of their constituents, by banning government use of face surveillance in your community.