Portland passes nation’s strongest facial recognition ban for government and businesses

Portland, Oregon. (BigStock Photo)

The Portland City Council on Wednesday passed legislation that bans government and private use of facial recognition. It’s the strongest ban nationally enforced by local lawmakers.

The ban on private use goes beyond what other cities such as San Francisco and Oakland have in place. Companies including Amazon, which sells facial recognition software and spent $24,000 on lobbying against the new law, have voiced opposition to the ban.

The ban is part of Portland city government’s broader efforts to devise policy for emerging technologies and data use that could have adverse impacts on marginalized groups.

Civil liberties and privacy watchdogs say widespread use of facial recognition by government agencies or in commercial settings could turn the places we live into invasive surveillance states. Studies and tests have shown that some facial recognition systems fail to accurately detect women or people with darker skin tones.

But business leaders say there are security and customer benefits for the technology that outweighs concerns about privacy or faulty systems that misidentify people.

In March, Washington became the first state to establish rules specifically governing facial recognition software. Microsoft, which also sells facial recognition software, was a key lobbyist for the bill.

Microsoft in June pledged not to sell facial recognition software to police, following similar announcements from Amazon and IBM that reflect the growing scrutiny of law enforcement technology in the U.S.

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