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San Francisco Moves Towards Banning Use Of Facial Recognition Tech By Law Enforcement

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- The city of San Francisco is on the verge of becoming the first in the nation to ban the use of facial recognition technology for law enforcement.

On Monday, the rules committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass the "Stop Secret Surveillance Ordinance, which would disallow city and county law enforcement agencies to use facial recognition systems.

"Facial recognition allows the government to know where we walk, what stores we visit, even if we've gone to a protest or a place of worship," said Matt Cagle of ACLU of Northern California.

The ACLU has been working to keep the technology out of the hands of government, especially after they tested it recently and found that 28 members of the U.S. Congress falsely matched mugshots of criminals. Now, San Francisco will have new rules before they buy any type of surveillance systems.

"What's great about it is that it makes sure that if law enforcement wants to deploy a new technology - something that may not be ready for prime time - they have to have  a conversation with the community," Cagle said.  "And for facial recognition, it says 'not in San Francisco, this stuff is broken.'"

The downside on facial recognition technology for civil libertarians is that it gives the government too much latitude to potentially abuse personal information.

"The upside is that we're going to be able to catch more bad guys," said KPIX 5 security expert and former FBI agent Jeff Harp.

Harp said law enforcement needs every tool it can get. Following the bombing of the Boston Marathon, it took teams of cops hours to comb through surveillance video to find the suspects. The new technology could have identified them much sooner.  San Francisco will not have this advantage.

"We're not going to be on the cutting edge enough to apprehend criminals in a manner that uses this technology," Harp said.

Now that it has passed the rules committee, the entire San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote on whether to pass the ordinance on May 14.

Oakland is working on a similar ordinance and will take up a vote later this month.

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