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San Francisco is the first city in the US to ban facial recognition software

San Francisco recently became the first city in the US to ban the use of facial recognition software by city agencies. (There’s a second vote next week, but it is considered just a formality.) A similar ban is also making its way through the system in Boston.

I thought the following quote by Aaron Peskin in the New York Times was an interesting one, because it speaks to some of the growing tensions between tech, policy, and city building:

“I think part of San Francisco being the real and perceived headquarters for all things tech also comes with a responsibility for its local legislators,” Mr. Peskin said. “We have an outsize responsibility to regulate the excesses of technology precisely because they are headquartered here.”

I can appreciate both sides of this argument.

For those concerned about crime and safety, facial recognition promises more effective policing. That’s why this technology is already used at many airports, including SFO. (Because it’s under federal jurisdiction, it won’t be impacted by this ban.)

At the same time, there are legitimate concerns related to the large-scale collection of personally identifiable data. And it is this same concern that is fueling the debates here in Toronto around what Sidewalk Labs is up to along the waterfront.

I am not an expert on this particular topic (or many topics for that matter). But if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you will know that I believe in innovation and I believe in progress.

However, I also believe that it is important and healthy for us to be having these debates. Because what I do know is that I wouldn’t want Toronto to become Shenzhen. I wouldn’t want to jaywalk across the street and have facial recognition software automatically send a ticket to my phone and post my photo to a “wall of shame.”

That doesn’t sound like a very fun city.

Photo by Chris Leipelt on Unsplash

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