The Portland City Council yesterday unanimously passed a ban on facial recognition technology, barring its use by the city and restricting its use by private businesses.
Similar to actions in Oakland, Calif., San Francisco and Somerville, Mass., the restrictions prevent city agencies from using facial recognition technology, citing concerns over privacy and algorithm bias.
The restrictions also ban businesses from using facial recognition technology in public areas within Portland city limits.
The ordinance affects any business providing goods, services or other accommodations to the public and could impact businesses’ ability to protect workers, customers, facilities and property, since it effectively targets business use of security systems.
The prohibition on private use will take effect Jan. 1, 2021, while the ban on use by city agencies is effective immediately.
The Security Industry Association (SIA) says that the decision is shortsighted and does not consider effective and beneficial applications of facial recognition. In July, SIA authored and submitted a letter to Portland’s mayor and city council, which noted the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s research documenting that high-performing algorithms perform equally well across different demographics.
“The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the world’s leading authority on this technology, found last year that the highest performing technologies had ‘undetectable’ differences across demographic groups—accuracy rates well above 99% and undetectable false positive differences across demographics, even when tested against galleries of up to 12 million images,” the letter stated.
Additionally, SIA’s Senior Director of Government Relations Jake Parker provided testimony at the Portland city council hearing on Sept. 9 in opposition to these widespread prohibitions.
“Turning back the clock on technological advancement through a complete ban on private-sector use of technology that clearly keeps our fellow citizens safe is not a rational answer during this period of social unrest in Portland,” said Don Erickson, SIA CEO. “It is hardly a model approach to policymaking that any government should adopt. We continue to invite local leaders across the country to work with us to develop more sensible approaches to the use of facial recognition.”