Portland City Council Bans Use of Facial Recognition Technology

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On September 9, 2020, the Portland, Oregon City Council voted unanimously to ban the use of facial recognition technology by the city government, including the police department, following similar actions by the cities of Boston and San Francisco. According to one Council member, “[T]his technology just continues to exacerbate the over-criminalization of Black and brown people in our community.” The ordinance requires the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and the Office of Equity and Human Rights to make sure that all city agencies are aware of the ordinance.

The Council stated that the use of biased facial recognition algorithms by law enforcement may cause “irreversible damage due to false identification from a face recognition process,” and its use may prevent city residents from being able to access city services.

In a second ordinance approved on the same night, the Council also prohibited private entities from using facial recognition technology in public places, which would include grocery stores, shopping malls and security cameras on public streets. This is being reported as the first time a city in the United States has enacted such a measure.

In voting to prohibit the use of facial recognition technology by private companies in public areas, the Council noted that facial recognition technology often misidentifies women and people of color, and that the technology can be used contrary to civil liberties and rights of citizens. According to the Council, “there is a risk of discrimination and harm, because face recognition technologies collect sensitive personal information that may lead to different decisions about access for those people for which those technologies are biased against.” The ACLU of Oregon noted “Face surveillance is an invasive threat to our privacy, especially to Black people, Indigenous people, people of color and women, who frequently are misidentified by the technology.”

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