- Portland, OR is considering a ban on facial recognition technology for government and private companies in the city, which would be the most far-reaching restriction on the technology in the country.
- The proposal from Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty and Smart City PDX is expected to be voted on early next year and would apply while the city drafts a Data Governance and Privacy and Information Protection framework. Hardesty has said the technology is biased against people of color and can misgender women, and raises too many privacy concerns.
- Several other cities, including San Francisco and Oakland, CA, have passed bans on the use of facial recognition by police or government bodies. Portland's ban would be the first to extend to private businesses, including stores, airlines and event venues.
As facial recognition technology has advanced, private companies have found it increasingly useful. Stores have used the technology to either scan for shoplifters or identify customers, and entertainment companies AEG Presents and Live Nation explored it as a way to pick out repeat or VIP customers (they both backed off their deployment plans after a backlash from artists). Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport even opened the nation's first biometric terminal, using facial and body scanning tools to replace the need for repeated ID checks. Police departments have also considered the technology to spot suspects or enforce crowd control.
However, those actions have led to significant backlash, especially from the civil rights community. Studies have shown that people of color, especially women of color, are more commonly misidentified by existing software. A 2018 study from MIT University found high failure rates in commercial software identifying dark-skinned women, including more than 34% for some software.
In a September interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting interview, Hardesty said she would consider allowing the technology if it improved and if there was a clear benefit for the public.
Smart City PDX spokesperson Christine Llobregat told Smart Cities Dive in an email that the city does not "currently know the extent of [facial recognition technology] use by businesses and community members in Portland ... a better understanding of private use will be a component of our research." The city will hold an engagement effort in early 2020 to discuss the impact of facial recognition regulations, in addition to a city council work session.
Portland's proposed ban would join the likes of San Francisco, Oakland and Somerville, MA, although those bans only apply to city and police use. The Massachusetts state legislature has also seen a ban introduced, and there have been bills brought up in the U.S. Congress that would regulate the technology. Portland's move to crack down on private use could be picked up in other cities, especially as public pressure mounts to push back against the tools.