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

San Francisco made history in 2019 when its Board of Supervisors voted to ban city agencies, including the police department, from using facial recognition. Nearly two dozen other American cities have followed suit. But San Francisco voters on Tuesday turned against the idea of ​​restricting police technology and supported a ballot proposal that would make it easier for city police to deploy drones and other surveillance equipment.

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

Matt Cagle, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California, says those changes lift existing restrictions on facial recognition, but loosen other important protections. “We are concerned that Proposition E will result in people in San Francisco being exposed to unproven and dangerous technology,” he says. “This is a reprehensible attempt by powerful interests to exploit fear about crime and transfer more power to the police.”

Mayor Breed and other supporters have positioned it as a response to concerns about crime in San Francisco. Crime figures have broadly declined, but fentanyl has recently increased overdose deaths and commercial downtown neighborhoods are still struggling with pandemic-induced office and retail vacancies. request also supported by groups associated with the tech industry, including Campaign group GrowSFwhich did not respond to requests for comment.

Mayor Breed said in a statement, “By supporting the work of our police officers, expanding our use of technology and bringing officers out of behind their desks and onto our streets, we are continuing our mission to make San Francisco a safer city. Will continue.” pass motion. While the city saw its lowest crime rates in a decade in 2023 — barring a pandemic in 2020 — property crime and violent crime rates will continue to decline further in 2024, he said.

Proposition E gives police more freedom to pursue suspects in car chases and reduces paperwork obligations, which also allows officers to resort to use of force.

Caitlin Seely George, managing director and campaigns director of Fight for the Future, a nonprofit that has long campaigned against the use of facial recognition, calls the proposal “a blow to hard-fought reforms” San Francisco has shown support for reintroduction in recent years. under observation.”

“By increasing the use of surveillance technology by police, as well as reducing surveillance and transparency, it undermines people’s rights and will create scenarios where people will be at greater risk of harm,” says George.

Although the ACLU’s Cagle shares his concerns that San Francisco’s citizens will be less safe, he says the city must retain its reputation to catalyze a US-wide pushback against surveillance. Nearly two dozen other cities also added new oversight mechanisms for police surveillance following San Francisco’s 2019 facial recognition ban.

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