Portland Bans Facial Recognition Technology

September 14, 2020 — Last week, the Portland, Oregon City Council unanimously voted to pass two ordinances that prohibit the use of facial-recognition technology. One ordinance, which goes into effect immediately, bans the use of facial-recognition technologies by city offices, including local law enforcement. The second ordinance, which goes into effect January 1, 2021, bans public-facing private businesses from using the technology.

City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly stated in a blog post that facial-recognition technology is flawed because it "was designed with white men as the standard, making the rest of us—women and BIPOC community members—deviations from the norm, and more likely to be misidentified and potentially harmed by this technology."

On September 10, the Security Industry Association—a trade association for global security solution providers—countered that argument, stating that the ordinances that ban facial-recognition technologies "are shortsighted decisions that do not consider effective and beneficial applications of facial recognition."

In a press release, SIA CEO Don Erickson stated, "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. It is hardly a model approach to policymaking that any government should adopt. Let’s act together now to thoughtfully educate the public about the legal and effective use of facial recognition technology while being mindful of legitimate questions raised about the impact of this technology on all stakeholders, including communities of color. We continue to invite local leaders across the country to work with us to develop more sensible approaches to the use of facial recognition.”

The SIA press release argues that technology is available today that is not racially biased. "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 release further explained that the "SIA believes all technology products, including facial recognition, must only be used for purposes that are lawful, ethical and nondiscriminatory, and recently released and committed to a series of principles to be used in the development and deployment of facial recognition, ensuring the technology is used in a transparent and nondiscriminatory way that implements privacy protections and human oversight into its use."

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Item of Interest

The language barrier between English-speaking investigators and Spanish-speaking witnesses is a growing problem. (Updated 28 February 2011)