Five years after San Francisco banned facial recognition, voters demand more surveillance

San Francisco made history in 2019 when the city’s Board of Supervisors voted to ban city agencies including police departments from using facial recognition. About two dozen other American cities have since followed suit. But on Tuesday, San Francisco voters appeared to oppose the idea of ​​limiting police technology, backing a ballot proposal that would help the city’s police deploy drones and other surveillance tools. easier.

Measure E passed with 60% of the vote and was supported by San Francisco Mayor London Breed. It gives the San Francisco Police Department new freedom to install public security cameras and deploy drones without oversight from the city’s Police Commission or Board of Supervisors. It also relaxes the requirement that SFPD obtain approval from the Board of Supervisors before adopting new surveillance technology, allowing approval to be sought at any time during the first year.

Those changes keep the current facial recognition ban in place but relax other important protections, said Matt Cagle, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California. “We are concerned that Measure E will expose San Francisco residents to dangerous and unproven technology,” he said. “This is a cynical attempt by powerful interests to exploit fear of crime and shift more power to the police.”

Mayor Breed and other advocates saw it as an answer to crime concerns in San Francisco. Crime figures are generally down, but fentanyl has recently caused a surge in overdose deaths, and downtown commercial neighborhoods are still struggling with office vacancies and retail due to the pandemic. Suggestions is also supported by technology industry-related groups, incl GrowSF campaign groupdid not respond to a request for comment.

“By supporting the work of police officers, expanding the use of technology and getting officers off the desk and onto the streets, we will continue our mission of making San Francisco a safe city. safer,” Mayor Breed said in a statement on the passed proposal. She noted that 2023 saw the lowest crime rate in a decade in the city — with the exception of the pandemic outbreak in 2020 — with property crime and violent crime rates continuing. continue to decrease further by 2024.

Measure E also gives police more freedom to pursue suspects in car chases and reduces paperwork obligations, including when officers have to use force.

Caitlin Seeley George, executive director and campaign director of Fight for the Future, a nonprofit that has long campaigned against the use of facial recognition, called the proposal “a major blow.” on the tough reforms that San Francisco has worked hard in recent years to rein in.” in supervision.”

“By expanding police use of surveillance technology, and reducing oversight and transparency, it undermines people’s rights and will create situations in which people have greater risk of harm.”

Although the ACLU’s Cagle shares his concern that San Francisco’s citizens will be less safe, he says the city should maintain its reputation for catalyzing the surveillance protest across the United States. About two dozen other cities followed San Francisco’s 2019 ban on facial recognition, many of which also added new surveillance mechanisms for police oversight.


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