Portland City Council Passes Facial Recognition Ban

The Portland City Council in Oregon recently passed the strongest facial recognition ban in the country – prohibiting the use of the technology by private business and government agencies, including local police, within the municipality. The ordinance will also ban facial recognition usage in airports. As no federal guidelines currently exist to limit or standardize the use of surveillance technology, and few state rules exist, municipalities are left to decide for themselves what to do to control its use.

The city council commissioners – who voted unanimously for the ban – stated that Portland residents and visitors should enjoy access to public spaces with a reasonable assumption of anonymity and personal privacy – particularly those who have been historically over surveiled and experience surveillance technologies differently. It is also the opinion of the Council that facial recognition technologies have been documented to have an unacceptable gender and racial bias.

“All Portlanders are entitled to a city government that will not use technology with demonstrated racial and gender biases that endanger personal privacy,” Portland mayor Ted Wheeler said.

The ordinance does not prevent individuals from setting up facial-recognition technology at home or prohibit gadgets that use facial-recognition software for authenticating users. The ban goes into effect January 1st, 2021. Companies that violate the ban could face a $1,000 US fine for each day of the violation and face prosecution.

“We are a pro-technology city, but what we’ve seen so far in practice with this technology, it continues to exacerbate the over criminalization of Black and Brown people in our community,” commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said.